Russia has turned Kherson into a ‘city of death’ by boobytrapping ‘everything’ including apartments and sewers and will shell it to pieces as soon as Ukraine’s men advance into it, a senior adviser to President Zelensky has said.
Mykhailo Podolyak issued the warning hours after Moscow said it would be withdrawing troops from Kherson to the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, handing one of the biggest prizes of its invasion over to Ukraine.The move, announced in a heavily stage managed state TV spectacle, sparked fears the ‘retreat’ is actually a trap.
‘The Russian Federation wants to make Kherson a “city of death”,’ Podolyak said Thursday. ‘The Russian military mines everything they can: apartments, sewers. Artillery on the left bank plans to turn the city into ruins.’
General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, supreme commander of Ukraine’s army, said his men have begun moving towards the city and have advanced four miles in two directions and captured about 12 villages in the last 24 hours. General Zaluzhnyi added that he is unable to confirm or deny whether the retreat is for real.
‘We continue to conduct the offensive operation in line with our plan,’ he wrote in a post on Telegram.
The withdrawal, if genuine, is the most humiliating defeat for Vladimir Putin in a long line of defeats since the war began. Kherson was the only regional capital captured by his men since February, and sits in a province which he annexed just weeks ago with a vow that it would be ‘forever’ Russian.
Strategically, the city was Russia’s only toe-hold on the western bank of the Dnipro River and losing it makes an assault on Odesa – Ukraine’s main port city and a key objective of the war – all-but impossible. Conversely, taking it puts Ukrainian artillery within striking distance of Crimea which is Kyiv’s ultimate objective.
Russia says it will withdraw from the west bank of the Dnipro River and the city of Kherson, but that announcement was greeted with suspicion by Ukraine
Putin’s propagandists, who reacted with fury to recent defeats in Kharkiv province, responded to the Kherson retreat with a sense of grim resignation.
Vladimir Solovyov, one of Russian state TV’s most-outspoken mouthpieces, admitted it was a ‘very difficult decision’ but that General Surovikin had been ‘courageous’ to take it.
Margarita Simonyan, head of the RT network, added: ‘I know for sure that this decision was not easy for anyone. Not for those who took it, nor for those of us who understood it would be so but still prayed it wouldn’t happen.’
President Zelensky, speaking overnight, urged ’emotional restraint’ at the news – suggesting the retreat may not be all that it seems. ‘The enemy does not give us gifts,’ he added.
He also voiced fears that Russia may try to blow up a dam at Nova Khakovka – upstream of the Dnirpo River from Kherson – flooding the area and draining a reservoir which the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant relies on to cool itself, potentially triggering a meltdown.
Issuing a warning to Moscow, he said: ‘[This] will mean you are declaring a war on the whole world. Think what will happen to you then.’
Zelensky said his troops will ‘move very carefully, without emotions, without unnecessary risk’ into the area Russia claims to have abandoned, ‘strengthening our positions step by step’ to avoid any potential traps.
Mark Galeotti, a professor and author on Russia, Putin and his wars, said the withdrawal is possibly an example of ‘maskirovka’ – a word that literally means ‘something masked’ but is used to describe a military tactic of deception that is embedded in the Russian military psyche.
But, speaking to BBC Radio 4, he added that an actual retreat from Kherson ‘does make sense militarily’ and it appears Russia’s generals have finally been able to persuade Putin to stop micro-managing the war and allow them to take the best tactical decisions even if it is damaging politically.
‘What we don’t know is whether this is just a one-off,’ he added. ‘Whether [the generals] convinced him this had to be done now rather than be forced on them, or whether this marks a wider change – is he more willing to let the generals do the generaling?’
‘What we’ve seen is really a major shift from Putin trying to win this war to Putin trying not to lose it.
‘All the moves we’ve seen, in terms of the mobilisation of reservists, the apparent shift back to a more defensible line along the Dnipro, what that all suggests is that Putin is digging in, hoping that victory will come in the long-term, that he can outlast the Ukrainians and perhaps more importantly that he can outlast the West.’
Professor Galeotti spoke after Russia said it was retreating from Kherson yesterday in a heavily stage-managed state TV appearance by General Sergei Surovikin – Putin’s top commander – and defence minister Sergei Shoigu.
Surovikin gave a report in which he said his troops are in danger and civilians are being killed, before recommending a retreat. Shoigu agreed, to which the squirming general replied: ‘Yes sir. The troop manoeuvres will be made as soon as possible.’
Putin – always on hand to cheer Russia’s ‘victories’ – was nowhere to be seen.
Witnesses say Russian men have already abandoned key checkpoints around Kherson and have destroyed bridges in an apparent effort to stop Ukrainian soldiers pursuing and capturing them.
British soldier is killed fighting in Ukraine
A British soldier has been killed in Ukraine after travelling to the country to help with their fight against Russia.
Simon Lingard, 38, who served in Afghanistan, died on 7 November and is believed to be the third British national to die so far in the war in Ukraine.
The father-of-two, a former member of the UK’s Special Forces Support Group, died ‘fighting for what he believed in’, his family said.
Lingard, who is known as ‘Grimmy’ and described by friends as a ‘warrior’, is believed to have been fighting alongside Ukrainian troops on the front line for months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
But his son, Jackson, wrote on Facebook that his father died after his troupe was attacked by Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
Lingard, a former machine gunner, was killed when a trench he was sheltering in came under attack from Russian artillery strikes.
He was part of a band of British volunteers defending the town of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region.
Two other Brits are thought to have been injured in the strike.
Ten people were killed and 20 injured, including a former Guards officer and at least two former paratroopers.
Simon Lingard, who had served in the UK’s Special Forces, died on Monday and is believed to be the third British national to die so far in the war in Ukraine
Giving up Kerson – the capital of a region Putin annexed to Russia just weeks ago, his only toe-hold west of the Dnipro River, and a key checkpoint on the road to Crimea – is the most-humiliating loss his military has yet suffered.
The order for Russian troops to abandon the city came just hours after the Russian-installed ‘deputy head’ of the Kherson region was killed in a car crash.
The regional governor’s press service confirmed that Kirill Stremousov, 45, died when his Lexus was involved in a collision with a truck.
Pro-Kremlin Telegram channels reported that the crash happened near Henichensk in Kherson, his personal driver told the @wargonzo project, as images emerged of the twisted remains of the car left on the road in the wake of the accident.
Stremousov was a driving force in organising and supporting the referendum on Kherson’s illegal annexation by Russia.
Recently, he had evacuated civilians from the west bank in Kherson as Ukrainian forces advanced towards the Dnipro River.
The 45-year-old, who was appointed two months after the invasion of Ukraine, was wanted in Kyiv for treason.
Ukraine has been attacking towards Kherson since early August, and recently broke through Russian defensive lines to the north of the city.
But it has been hard to track the progress of the assault ever since, as Ukraine has imposed a news blackout on the region.
Last week, Western officials briefed that Russia appeared to be in the final stages of preparing for a retreat which was being disguised as a civilian evacuation.
They said ‘reinforcements’ being moved to the area were actually conscripts covering the backs of regular troops as they withdrew.
The officials said Russia’s commanders had concluded the city was ‘not worth defending’ and would try to out-last the winter by building a strong defensive line over the other side of the Dnipro.
However, the waters have been muddied by briefings from Kyiv which suggested Russia is actually trying to lure its forces into a trap.
On Monday, Ukraine’s general staff said Russian troops are disguising themselves as civilians and hiding in homes in preparation for urban combat.
They added that defences have been beefed up and Putin’s men looked set to fight for the city. The exact situation on the ground is unclear.
While withdrawing from Kherson is the biggest defeat yet for Putin’s army, it is hardly the first it has suffered.
In April, his soldiers were forced to retreat after a botched attempt to take the capital of Kyiv that saw some of his best units wiped out.
That was followed by an offensive in the Donbas which had largely ground to a halt by late July.
Ukraine then went on the front foot and launched its counter-offensive towards Kherson, having blown up most of the major bridges that supply the city.
A surprise second attack was then launched further to the north in early September, heading east out of the city of Kharkiv, that routed Russian forces.
Almost the entire region was returned to Ukrainian control in just a few days.
Kyiv’s men then made a breakthrough to the north of Kherson in October, pushing Russian troops back to their second line of defence.
Now, In November, Russia looks to have abandoned Kherson altogether.
Taking back the city is a huge propaganda win for Kyiv, which now aims to re-take all of its occupied territory – including areas it has not controlled since 2014.
Kherson is a key waypoint on the road to Crimea, the crown-jewel of Putin’s 2014 war and where President Zelensky has said the current war ‘will end’.
While Ukraine’s troops are not expected to mount an immediate assault across the Dnipro – at least not immediately – it does put positions around Crimea within range of its HIMARS rockets.
Securing the entirety of the west bank of the river will also allow Kyiv to free up units for other attacks, possibly south from Zaporizhzhia towards Melitopol – and then into Crimea from the east.