As Ukrainians push toward occupied Kherson, the Russian occupiers on Oct. 18 said they would move up to 60,000 Ukrainian civilians to occupied parts of Ukraine or Russia.
The occupation authorities called it an “evacuation,” saying that Ukrainian forces are likely to attack the city. The Russians have already subjected more than a million Ukrainians throughout the country to forcible deportation and resettlement.
It is not clear how many Kherson Oblast residents agreed to go. Social media suggested at least several hundred waited for ferries in the eponymous regional capital on Oct. 19.
As of the evening of Oct. 19, Kherson-based Telegram channels reported loud explosions on the outskirts of the city. An anonymous Ukrainian soldier, who was not authorized to talk, told the Kyiv Independent there are signs that Ukraine is preparing another offensive in the region. The Ukrainian Armed Forces are maintaining strict silence for operational security.
Kirill Stremousov, one of the top Russian proxies in Kherson Oblast, said on Oct. 19 that Ukrainian forces might soon start advancing on Kherson and called on locals to flee.
Volodymyr Saldo, a Ukrainian politician and Russia collaborator who’s been put in charge of the occupied parts of the region, said 60,000 people would be “evacuated” in six days.
On various online channels, Russians and collaborators in Kherson claimed to have moved all governing institutions to the eastern bank of the Dnipro, Ukraine’s largest river — Kherson sits on the western bank. Serhiy Khlan, an aide to the Ukrainian regional governor, said the Russians are organizing deportation of doctors and teachers, which he called “frightenting.”
The Kremlin said it was introducing martial law to the four Ukrainian regions it partly occupies and tried to annex after holding fake referendums there. Most countries rejected Moscow’s illegal claim that this land now belongs to Russia and 143 voted to condemn it. In the occupied areas that Russia now considers under “martial law,” people are not allowed to enter or leave at their own will.
Russian media posted a brief video of a row of people standing waiting for ferries that would take them across the river, where enough buses to accommodate 1,000 people supposedly stood waiting. Occupation authorities have even printed off pamphlets for locals about the move. These pamphlets recommend relocation “to other parts of the Russian Federation.”
These claimed that evacuees will get certificates allowing them to buy a house or an apartment in any region of Russia.
“At night, messages started coming to people that evacuation starts at 7 a.m. — people were to arrive at the river port,” Khlan said at a news conference on Oct. 19. “People did arrive but Russians didn’t start deportation, waiting for more to gather to film their propaganda.”
Pictures shared on local Telegram channels showed only a few hundred people gathered by the ferry. A local Twitter user’s posts bear this out — she wrote that hundreds of people stood in line at the river port with bags and suitcases. She said people who were leaving included the elderly, Russia appreciators and families with children.
On the other hand, she posted that Russians came to a refugee center and declared evacuation but people refused to go. “The orcs left, mad,” she wrote. Many people also lined up in front of ATMs to withdraw the daily maximum.
“I got information that people might not be relocated to just Crimea but to Russia, all the way beyond the Urals, in the finest of deportation traditions,” said Khlan. He compared it to Russia’s forcible resettlement of Crimean Tatars in the middle of the 20th century. It also mirrors what the Russians did in Donetsk Oblast earlier in the war.
Mykolaiv Oblast governor Vitaliy Kim believes that Russians will stage a provocation by shelling the city and claiming Ukrainians are doing it.
“Knowing Russian tactics, knowing that they’re digging fortifications in the Chaplynka district to hit Kherson accurately, I get the feeling that the Russians are preparing to fire on the city,” Kim stated. There is also a possibility of Ukrainian civilians being used as human shields.
Ukrainian forces have renewed their offensive in the region, north of the city, according to open source intelligence analysts on Twitter. Ukrainian forces have gained ground in the region over the past month, taking dozens of villages and collapsing Russian defenses.
Additional reporting by Oleg Sukhov.
Note from the author:
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