Leaders appointed by the Kremlin occupied Kherson region in southern Ukraine said they had begun evacuating civilians away from the front lines.
Vladimir Saldo, governor of the Russian-backed state of Kherson, told Russian television late Tuesday that they plan to relocate up to 60,000 people to the left bank of the Dnipro river.
Ukraine has previously said that Russia is forcibly deporting Ukrainian civilians; human rights groups and international agencies Warned this act may constitute a crime against humanity.
Saldo announced the “organized resettlement” of civilians on Telegram on Tuesday.
“Our important task is to save lives and enable the military of the Russian Federation to effectively carry out their functions in the defense of the Kherson region,” he said.
“We will move civilians to the left bank in an organized, phased manner.”
All ministries of the Russian-established civil administration in the Kherson region will also move to the left bank of Dnipro, Saldo said, adding that civilians will be closed for seven days.
Residents in Kherson received text messages asking to leave the city due to a threat of artillery fire by the Ukrainian army on Wednesday morning, Russian state media RIA Novosti reported.
According to a July report of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
In September, Ukraine’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Khrystyna Hayovyshyn, told the United Nations Security Council that Russia had forced deportation 2.5 million Ukrainians – including 38,000 children – consider this a violation of human rights.
The Kremlin’s mass evacuation of citizens from Kherson took place in the context of Kyiv’s efforts recapture the territory in the South.
A Russian official warned of a potential new Ukrainian counterattack in Kherson on Wednesday.
Saldo’s deputy, Kirill Stremousov, said the situation was “stable” but alleged that the Ukrainian army could attack “at any time” and asked people to cross the left bank of the Dnipro river.
“On the morning of October 19, the situation on the fronts and the approach to the Kherson area stabilized,” he said.
“The enemy is gathering forces, and at any moment may begin to launch attacks on the civilians of Kherson and the Kherson region. No one is going to retreat, but we want to save your life. Let’s cross the left bank (Dnipro river) as quickly as possible”.
The deputy head of Ukraine’s Kherson region, Yurii Sobolevskyi, described Russia’s “evacuations” as “the semi-voluntary expulsion of the Ukrainian people.”
Sobolevskyi confirmed to CNN that an evacuation is underway.
“People are really leaving. There are a lot of people in Kherson Harbor right now,” he said.
“Today they started sending mass SMS to people about the evacuation. They also started handing out booklets on actions during the evacuation. At the same time, the message is spread among the population that if they go to Russia, they will receive a certificate of housing”.
Sobolevskyi, who spoke to CNN from Kyiv, accused the Russian-backed authorities of “escalating hysteria”.
“On the one hand, we understand that the Armed Forces of Ukraine will liberate Kherson and the region, accordingly, there may be active hostilities, and this is a risk to the local population.
“On the other hand, there is no guarantee that the people being evacuated will be safe (where they are going) and far from the front lines. Everyone will decide for themselves – leave or stay. It is difficult to say what decision they will make.”