By Tom Balmforth
KIEV (Reuters) – The new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine has made a rare acknowledgment of pressure from Ukrainian offensives to retake areas of the south and east that Moscow says it annexed just weeks ago.
And in another sign of Russia’s concern about the situation on the battlefield, eight months after the invasion, the head of the Kremlin-installed southern strategic region of Kherson announced on Tuesday an “organised and gradual displacement” of civilians from four cities on the Dnipro River.
Russian forces in Kherson have been repulsed by 20-30 km in recent weeks and are in danger of being locked up against the west bank of the Dnipro River that cuts through Ukraine.
“The situation in the area of ’special military operation’ can be described as tense,” Sergei Surovikin, a Russian air force general appointed this month to take command, told state-run news channel Rossiya 24.
Of Kherson, Surovikin stated, “The situation in this area is difficult. The enemy is deliberately attacking infrastructure and residential buildings in Kherson.”
Both Ukraine and Russia deny attacking civilians, although Kiev has accused Moscow forces of war crimes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered what he calls a “special military operation” on February 24 because he said he wanted to ensure Russian security and protect Russian speakers in Ukraine.
Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to seize territory.
Russian troop positions in Kupiansk and Lyman in eastern Ukraine and in the area between Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih in Kherson province were cited by Surovikin as under continuous attack.
He appeared to admit that there is a danger of Ukrainian forces advancing towards the town of Kherson, which is near the mouth of the Dnipro on the west bank, and it is difficult for Russia to resupply from the east because the main bridge over the Dnipro has been seriously damaged. damaged by Ukrainian bombing.
Russia captured the city largely unopposed in the early days of the invasion, and it remains the only major Ukrainian city that Moscow’s forces have taken intact.
Kherson is one of four partially occupied Ukrainian provinces that Russia claims to have annexed, and arguably the most strategically important. It controls the only land route to the Crimean peninsula that Russia seized in 2014 and the mouth of the Dnipro.