Head of the Republic of Crimea Sergei Aksyonov has announced that all the civilians in the Kherson region had been evacuated due to Kiev forces’ attacks.
Kiev forces have been attacking Russia’s hold on the southern city of Kherson amid the intensification of fighting in the country’s east.
“The work to organize residents leaving the left side of the Dnieper [River] to safe regions of Russia is completed,” Aksyonov said on the messaging application Telegram late on Thursday, after he visited the region accompanied by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first deputy chief of staff, Sergei Kiriyenko.
He posted photos of himself and other officials, including Kiriyenko, on a riverbank. “The crossing [of the Dnieper] is empty!” Aksyonov said.
On Wednesday, Head of the Kherson region Vladimir Saldo said at least 70,000 people had left their homes in the region in the space of a week.
Ukrainian and Russian forces have been preparing for weeks for what could be one of the most decisive battles of the conflict.
Meanwhile, Kiev’s army claimed on Friday that Russia’s “so-called evacuation” was continuing.
It said that the Russian command in Kherson was trying to “hide the real losses of servicemen” to “avoid panic.”
It also said that 44 Russian servicemen had been killed in the past 24 hours. Kiev artillery had destroyed an ammunition depot and a hangar with equipment, it added. However, Western sources could not verify the report.
Kherson recently joined Russia in referenda after Moscow launched operations in late February. It includes the only land route to the Crimean Peninsula, and the mouth of the Dnieper River, the lifeline to the region.
In related news, Putin warned on Thursday that the world is presently at a dangerous juncture, denouncing the West for inciting war and playing a “dangerous, bloody and dirty” game that was sowing chaos across the world.
In a speech addressing the Valdai Discussion Club, a gathering of Russian specialists, the Russian leader said Moscow’s objectives remained the same.
Russia was fighting to protect the people of the Donbas, he said, referring to an eastern industrial region that comprises two of the four Ukrainian provinces that joined Russia.
Ultimately, Putin said, the West would have to talk to Russia and other major powers about the future of the world.
“We are standing at a historical frontier: Ahead is probably the most dangerous, unpredictable and, at the same time, important decade since the end of World War Two,” Putin said at the annual foreign policy conference.
Fighting has been going on in the Donbas since 2014 between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists.
The conflict has killed thousands, displaced millions, shaken the global economy and reopened Cold War-era divisions.
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