Ukrainian authorities did not immediately confirm the move, and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has suggested in recent days that the Russians were faking a withdrawal from Kherson to lure the Ukrainian army into an entrenched battle. Zelenskyy called the attempts to persuade civilians to venture deeper into Russian-controlled territory “theatrics.”
Russia’s top military commander in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, informed Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday that it was impossible to deliver supplies to the city of Kherson and other areas on the west bank of the Dnieper River in which it lies. Shoigu agreed to his proposal to withdraw and establish defenses on the east bank.
Withdrawal from Kherson, which is in a region of the same name illegally annexed by Moscow, would be another significant setback. The city, with a pre-war population of 280,000, is the only regional capital captured by Russian forces since the invasion began on February 24.
Ukrainian forces had concentrated on the strategic industrial city, which is located on the Dnieper River that divides the region and the country itself.
Throughout the summer, Ukrainian troops launched relentless attacks to retake parts of the larger province.
More than 70,000 residents were evacuated in late October, along with members of the Kremlin-installed regional government, according to Moscow-appointed officials, though Ukrainian officials disputed the claim. The remains of Grigory Potemkin, the Russian general who founded Kherson in the 18th century, were also moved from the city’s St. Catherine’s Church.
The city and parts of the surrounding region were seized in the early days of the conflict as Russian troops pushed their attack north from Crimea, the area illegally annexed by the Kremlin in 2014.
In recent months, Ukraine has used US-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers to repeatedly hit a key bridge on the Dnieper in Kherson and a large upstream dam that is also used as a crossing point. The attacks forced Russia to rely on pontoon boats and ferries that were also targeted by Ukraine.
The Russian announcement came as Ukraine’s villages and towns saw more intense fighting and shelling on Wednesday.
At least nine civilians were killed and 24 others wounded in 24 hours, the Ukrainian president’s office said. He accused Russia of using explosive drones, rockets, heavy artillery and planes to attack eight regions in the country’s southeast.
Ukrainian and Russian forces also clashed overnight in Snihurivka, a town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the southern city of Kherson.
The president’s office said widespread Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy system continued. Two towns not far from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant were bombed overnight, he said. More than 20 residential buildings, an industrial plant, a gas pipeline and a power line were reportedly damaged in Nikopol, which is located across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Further west, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, the Ukrainian governor reported “massive” overnight strikes with Iranian drones exploding, injuring four workers at an energy company in the city of Dnipro.
“Attacks on civilian infrastructure are war crimes in themselves. The Kremlin is at war with Ukrainian civilians, trying to leave millions of people without water and electricity (so that they) freeze in the winter,” Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said on Ukrainian television.