Russian occupation officials based in the Ukrainian city of Kherson told civilians on Saturday that they must withdraw immediately due to what they called a tense military situation as Ukrainian forces advance.
Thousands of civilians have been leaving the region for days across the Dnipro River after warnings of an imminent Ukrainian offensive to recapture the city, but Saturday’s warning was sent with renewed urgency.
“Due to the tense situation at the front, the increased risk of massive bombings in the city and the threat of terrorist attacks, all civilians must immediately leave the city and cross to the left (east) bank of the Dnipro!” said the statement released on Telegram.
“Take care of the safety of your family and friends! Don’t forget documents, money, valuables and clothes.”
The statement added that all Russian administration departments and ministries installed in Kherson must also leave. The alert urges people to use river vessels to cross the Dnipro.
One of the most important battles of the eight-month war is nearing Kherson, as Ukrainian forces advance along the west bank of the Dnipro, aiming to recapture the city and encircle thousands of Russian troops.
Ukraine has imposed a frontline intelligence blackout on Kherson, but Russian commander General Sergei Surovikin said this week that the situation in Kherson “is already difficult” and that Russia “does not rule out difficult decisions” there.
In a briefing on Saturday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces had repelled an attempt by Ukraine to breach Russian control in the Kherson region.
Reuters could not independently confirm the allegations on the battlefield.
Kherson is the only provincial capital that Russia has captured intact and kept since the invasion on February 24. The Kherson region was one of four that Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month that Moscow was claiming “forever” as belonging to its territory.
Putin has said he is prepared to resort to nuclear weapons if necessary to defend what Russia claims as its own land. The declared annexation was condemned as illegal by Ukraine, its allies and the United Nations General Assembly.