A senior Russian-appointed official in Kherson saying Russian troops will “most likely” withdraw to the east bank of the Dnieper River has led to an unclear situation in the southern Ukrainian region.
Speaking on Russian television Thursday, deputy head of the regional administration Kirill Stremousov said: “Most likely, our troops will be withdrawing to the east bank of the Kherson region.”
Yet he did not give a timeline for the withdrawal and, with no apparent signs of Russian troops on the west bank making any substantial movements to leave, the statement has caused confusion on the ground.
A resident of Kherson told CNN that as far as they could tell there is no mass withdrawal of Russian troops from the city, but there was unusual movement among Russian forces, with some checkpoints in the city having been removed.
The deputy head of Kherson regional council, Yurii Sobolevskyi, told CNN the Russians had “left some of their checkpoints in Chornobaivka, Stepanivka and Bilozerka (settlements to the north and west of the city, closer to the frontlines),” confirming that there are also “less checkpoints in Kherson.”
Sobolevskyi believes the statements about a possible withdrawal of troops is “more like a trap” as he sees “no mass withdrawal.”
Video from Kherson, Ukraine, appears to show the Russian flag has been taken down from the administration building in the city.
A social media video from Kherson Thursday showed that the Russian flag was no longer flying at the main administration building. This video has been confirmed by Sobolevskyi.
A Russian reporter in the area disputed this, saying he drove around Kherson and this was “not a systemic phenomenon,” adding that the Russian flag still “hangs over other administrative buildings and educational institutions.”
“The roar of tanks moving in large numbers at night”: The Kherson resident, meanwhile, whose identity CNN is not disclosing for their own security, stated that “during the day there are very few large military vehicles; they used to run endlessly all day.”
In northern Kherson, in the direction of Mykolaiv, the resident said “there is a large accumulation of manpower and equipment. Residents of the suburbs hear the roar of tanks moving in large numbers at night” in neighborhoods near the airport.”
The Ukrainian military says fighting has continued around Beryslav, up the river from Kherson city, the Operational Command South saying that enemy troops continue to launch rocket and artillery attacks on peaceful settlements.
It also said that the occupation authorities had “temporarily banned the movement of civilian vehicles across the (Dnieper) river,” opposing Stremousov’s call for civilians in the city to leave for the east bank.
Russian-appointed authorities said there was a “temporary evacuation of civilians from all settlements in the 15-kilometer zone of the east bank of the (Dnieper) is being held.”
Strikes on Russian targets: Ukrainian forces have stepped up attacks on critical supply hubs for the Russians in Kherson this week, with fresh attacks on Nova Kakhovka and pontoon bridges across the Dnieper River near Kherson city. Images geolocated by CNN Thursday showed wrecked boats on the shore close to Kherson city.
Ukrainian forces also struck an administration building on the east bank at Hola Prystan.
Stremousov confirmed the strike and said no one was injured during the shelling, but the Hola Prystan administration building was “completely destroyed.”
Russian forces are fortifying a zone on the east bank, stretching some 15 to 20 kilometers downriver from Nova Kakhovka.
Stremousov has previously said that Russian forces are dug in and will defend the areas of the west bank of the Dnieper they still hold. At the same time, Russian forces have begun building fortifications on the east bank, according to both Ukrainian officials and the Russian-backed local administrations.
If Russian forces do withdraw from the west bank altogether, they will cede thousands of square kilometers of occupied territory they annexed in September, to Ukrainian forces.