KHERSON City (AFP): Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday ordered Moscow’s troops to withdraw from the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine, which Ukrainian forces have been advancing on for weeks.
“Begin to pull out troops,” Shoigu told a televised meeting with Russia’s commander in Ukraine, Sergey Surovikin.
The commander had proposed the “difficult decision” of pulling back from Kherson and setting up defences on the left bank of the Dnipro River.
Kherson city was the first urban hub captured by Russia during its “special military operation” and the only regional capital controlled by the Russians since the offensive began on February 24.
Ukraine’s forces have for weeks been capturing villages en route to the city near the Black Sea and Kremlin-installed leaders in Kherson have been pulling out civilians.
A Ukrainian victory in the Black Sea region would cut off the land bridge that the Kremlin established from Russia to the Crimea, the peninsula which Moscow annexed in 2014.
It would also return Ukraine important access to the Sea of Azov and leave Russian President Vladimir Putin with little to show from a campaign that has turned him into a pariah in the eyes of the West.
Surovikin told Shoigu on Wednesday that some 115,000 people had been removed from the right bank of the Dnipro, which includes the city.
“We have done everything possible for our part to ensure their safety during the evacuation,” Surovikin said in a report broadcast on the state-run Rossiya-24 television channel.
Earlier on Wednesday, officials said the Moscow-installed deputy head of the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, died in a car crash.