Putin 'using aggressive rhetoric' to scare the West says expert
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The Russian-installed leader of Ukraine’s newly annexed southern Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, announced that all those living there needed to flee – because of daily rocket attacks by advancing Ukrainian forces.
But the diktat meant Ukrainian nationals were in fact being forced to leave their home nation and were over the weekend arriving in their thousands over the border in Russia.
A furious Kyiv attacked the move, saying it would never target its own citizens and was yet another sign of Russian desperation in the face of defeat.
It also accused the Kremlin or forcibly taking Ukrainian nationals to Russia – a charge also made earlier in the war in other areas the country.
But Saldo, the Russian-installed leader in the region, claimed that all civilians there needed to “save themselves” by going to Russia for “leisure and study”, and asked for Moscow’s help.
“We suggested that all residents of the Kherson region, if they wish, to protect themselves from the consequences of missile strikes … go to other regions,” he said.
People should “leave with their children”, he added.
His call was later backed up by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin in a message on state television.
“The government took the decision to organise assistance for the departure of residents of the [Kherson] region to other regions of the country,” said Mr Khusnullin, who has special responsibility for southern Russia and Crimea.
“We will provide everyone with free accommodation and everything necessary.”
Yesterday, the first groups of people from Kherson were arriving in Russia’s Rostov region, its governor Vasily Golubev, said.
“The Rostov region will accept and accommodate everyone who wants to come to us from the Kherson region,” he added.
The apparent forced migration comes as Ukraine continues to make advances in the Kherson region.
Kyiv has been using US-supplied Himars rocket systems to great effect in the area.
It has focused on key Russian-held military targets and threatened to cut off the bulk of the occupying forces on the west bank of the Dnipro river.
Kherson is the only regional capital seized by Russian forces since Moscow’s invasion began on 24 February.
But Ukraine’s military has been edging its troops ever forwards in the key region that borders Crimea – the southern Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Meanwhile, on the ground, fierce fighting continued yesterday, with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky saying the situation in the east of the country was “the most difficult” near the town of Bakhmut, a few days after pro-Russian forces announced they were moving closer to the city.
“A very severe situation persists in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions” in the Donbas, the Ukrainian president said in his daily address.
“The most difficult is near Bakhmut, like in previous days. We are still holding our positions,” he added.
His comments came after Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donetsk region of Ukraine’s said they had captured two nearby villages, Opytine and Ivangrad.
Russian troops have for weeks been pummelling Bakhmut, a wine-making and salt-mining city that used to be populated by 70,000 people, in the hope of capturing the city.
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