Putin supports the evacuation of the Ukrainian region of Kherson | News about the war between Russia and Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly supported the evacuation of civilians from parts of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, amid conflicting reports of a curfew being imposed in the Russian-controlled area.
“Now, of course, those living in Kherson should be removed from the zone of the most dangerous actions, because the civilian population should not suffer,” Putin told pro-Kremlin activists on Friday as he marked Russia’s Unity Day.
Russia could be preparing to leave his military stronghold on the west bank of the Dnieper River, including the regional capital of Kherson, in one of the largest Russian retreats of the war.
Kherson, a city of about 284,000 before the conflict, is the only major city Russia has captured intact since its invasion in February. The surrounding province controls land access to Russian-occupied Crimea, and securing it was one of the rare successes of an otherwise disastrous Russian campaign.
Ukraine has said the evacuations involve the forced relocation of civilians, a war crime, which Moscow denies.
Ukraine was wary of the obvious signs of the Russians defeat, including images circulating online showing the Russian flag no longer flying on the main administrative building in the city of Kherson, citing these signs it can be a trap.
Kiril Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russian occupation administration in Kherson, said on Thursday that Russia was likely to withdraw its troops from the west bank.
In later comments, he was more equivocal, saying he hoped there would be no withdrawal but “we have to make some very difficult decisions”.
Stremousov also said on Friday that a 24-hour curfew had been imposed in the city to defend against a possible Ukrainian offensive, but it was lifted soon after.
“In the city of Kherson there are absolutely no restrictions that would limit life in the city,” Stremousov said on Telegram after an earlier message announcing a curfew on the same channel was removed.
Russian authorities claimed they were officially annexed by Kherson along with three other provinces on September 30, despite Moscow not having full control on the ground.
Ukraine’s defense minister last week spoke of a counter-offensive against Russian forces in Kherson proved more difficult than in the northeast due to wet weather and terrain.
Kiev is pushing for more military help from Western allies to advance past Russian strongholds towards the city of Kherson.
The United States announced on Friday the renewal of T-72 tanks and HAWK surface-to-air missiles as part of a roughly $400 million package of security assistance to Ukraine.
The T-72 lags behind more modern tanks such as the German Leopard or the American Abrams that Kiev has sought.
“The tanks are coming from the defense industry of the Czech Republic, and the United States is paying for 45 of them to be refurbished, and the Dutch government is meeting our commitment” for a total of 90 T-72s, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters.
The Soviet-era tanks will be equipped with “advanced optics, communications and armor packages,” with some ready by the end of December and others delivered in 2023, she said.
Singh cited factors including ease of use and cost as reasons for not getting more modern equipment.
The package also funds the renewal of HAWK missiles from the US inventory, an important asset as Ukraine tries to counter Russian drone and missile attacks targeting its cities and energy infrastructure.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that the Group of Seven (G7) is focusing more of its security support on helping Ukraine defend against Russian attacks on its energy grid.
“The G7 agreed to create a new coordination group to help prepare, rebuild and defend Ukraine’s energy grid, the very grid that President Putin brutalized,” Blinken said after a two-day G7 meeting in the western German city of Muenster.
He accused Russia of trying to “freeze itself [Ukrainians] into submission”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that four million people across Ukraine were affected by the constant power outages.
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