Russia tells Ukrainian townspeople to ‘save their lives’ and leave

Russia told people in the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson to flee for their lives on Sunday as more residents joined an exodus to escape an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Russia’s representatives in the southern region are trying to evacuate up to 60,000 people living on the west bank of the Dnipro River.

“The situation today is difficult. It is vital to save their lives,” Russian Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov said in a video message. “It won’t be for long. You’ll definitely be back.”

The Kherson region lies to the north of the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. It is a major gateway for Russian military supplies.

Moscow-backed officials reported a shortage of boats to transport people across the river at one point on Sunday, due to a “sharp increase in the number of people wanting to leave the city”.

About 25,000 people have been evacuated since Tuesday, according to the Interfax news agency, citing the deputy head of the region installed in Russia, Kirill Stremousov.

“We recommend that you leave the city and the west bank of the Dnipro,” Stremousov said in a video message posted on Telegram.

He said an improvised explosive device killed one person and wounded another in an explosion in the city on Sunday. Reuters was unable to independently verify the incident.

Despite warnings, officials insisted that any reallocation of territory that Russia officially proclaimed its own after what it called referendums and which were deemed phony, with coercive votes, according to Kiev and the West, would be temporary.

“We’re not going to give up on Kherson,” Stremousov said.

More Kherson residents packed their bags and belongings on Sunday on repurposed ferries and school buses departing the city.

“Of course we fear for our lives,” Vera, 44, told Reuters, who did not give her last name. “But I think everything will be fine. Kherson will handle it.”

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