By ANDREW MELDRUM and YURAS KARMANAU – Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian soldiers are forcing Ukrainian civilians out of their apartments in the occupied capital of Kherson region and into moving in themselves, a resident said on Friday as the southern city became a hotbed of war growing in Ukraine.
His account of soldiers spread throughout the city of Kherson suggested that Russia might be bracing for intense urban warfare in anticipation of Ukrainian advances.
Russian-installed authorities in Kherson have continued to urge civilians to leave the town, which sits on the west bank of the Dnieper and has been cut off from supplies and food by Ukrainian shelling.
Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Kremlin-appointed regional administration, reiterated his calls for civilians to move across the river. Stremousov said Thursday that Russian forces may soon withdraw from the city of Kherson. On Friday, he said the statement was just an attempt to encourage evacuations.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested that the Russians were faking a withdrawal from Kherson in order to draw the Ukrainian army into an entrenched battle. Zelenskyy described attempts to convince civilians to move deeper into Russian-controlled territory as “theatre”.
A resident of Kherson told The Associated Press that Russian soldiers were moving into vacant apartments. Russian military personnel were going door to door, checking property deeds and forcing tenants to leave immediately if they could not prove they owned the apartments, he said.
“They force the townspeople to evacuate, then Russian soldiers move into vacated apartments all over Kherson,” said the resident, who spoke on the condition that only his first name – Konstantin – be used for reasons. of security. “It is obvious that they are preparing to fight the Ukrainian army in the city.
Hospitals and clinics were not serving patients in Kherson, where residents also reported food supply problems.
“There are almost no food deliveries in the city, residents are using their own stocks and queuing at the few stores that are still open,” Konstantin said.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov told the AP that as part of its counter-offensive to reclaim the Kherson region, the Ukrainian army cut off the west bank of the Dnieper from the supply of weapons and food in bombarding the main transport routes and destroying the bridges over the river.
“The Russians understand the danger of the transport routes being blocked and have practically accepted the fact that they will have to withdraw from the right bank of the Dnieper,” Zhdanov said. “But Russian troops are not ready to leave Kherson peacefully and are preparing for battles in the city. They deployed there the mobilized reservists and new groups of tactical battalions.
According to Zhdanov, the Ukrainian army has a significant advantage over the Russians in aviation and artillery on the right bank, which means that it could bombard the city of Kherson and avoid a frontal confrontation.
“Kyiv is taking its time as Russian resources in Kherson evaporate and weaken day by day, allowing the Ukrainians to build up forces for the main strike,” Zhdanov said.
Russian forces captured the city of Kherson shortly after invading Ukraine in late February. Russia illegally annexed the Ukrainian regions of Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia in late September and then declared martial law in all four provinces.
The Kremlin-installed regional administration in Kherson has already moved tens of thousands of civilians out of the city, citing the threat of increased shelling as the Ukrainian army continues its counteroffensive.
Southern Ukraine military spokeswoman Natalia Humeniuk told Ukrainian television that some Russian servicemen dress up as civilians.
Neither party’s claims could be independently verified.
Elsewhere, Ukrainian officials reported downing drones launched by Russian forces: eight drones in the Nikopol region, also bombed, and another drone over the western Lviv region.
Ukrainian Armed Forces Commander Valeriy Zaluzhny said Russian forces had “tripled the intensity of hostilities in some areas of the front” and were carrying out “up to 80 attacks a day”.
Zelenskyy’s office said at least nine civilians were killed and 16 injured in attacks in Ukraine over the past day.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that there was still a constant flow of volunteers wishing to join the Russian army, with 318,000 people already mobilized. Authorities had previously said the goal was to mobilize some 300,000 reservists.
Putin said 49,000 were already in the army on combat missions, while the rest were still in training. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that 87,000 troops had been deployed to Ukraine. The discrepancy could not be reconciled.
When Russia announced the mobilization campaign in September, protests erupted in several regions and tens of thousands of Russians fled the country.
Putin also signed a law on Friday allowing the military mobilization of people whose convictions are expunged or pending, including those who have recently served time for murder, robbery and drug trafficking.
On the Black Sea grain corridor, Russia agreed on Wednesday to join a wartime agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey allowing Ukrainian grain to be shipped to world markets through it. Moscow had suspended its participation in the grain deal over the weekend, citing an alleged drone attack on its Black Sea Fleet in Crimea.
Ukraine’s armed forces said on Friday that “the functioning of the grain corridors continues”.
As a condition for returning to the deal, Russia demanded that the grain be sent to poorer countries, arguing that most of it ended up in richer countries. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he discussed the issue of prioritizing least-developed countries for grain shipments during a call with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Erdogan said he had also discussed the possibility of sending the grain for free to countries facing famine, during a recent call with Putin, and the two planned further discussions during a meeting of the Group of 20 in Bali this month.
Karmanau reported from Tallinn, Estonia. Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.
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