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'Leave with your children,' Russia calls on Kherson residents to evacuate

The fleeing civilians are expected to arrive in Rostov and Crimea

UKRAINE-CRISIS/MYKOLAIV An aerial view shows a residential building heavily damaged during a Russian military attack in Mykolaiv, Ukraine | Reuters

Russian officials are urging the residents of the partially-occupied Kherson region to evacuate, promising them free accommodation in Russia. This comes as Ukraine continues to make military gains along the southern front.

Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed leader of Ukraine's southern Kherson region, has requested Moscow to organize an evacuation as he urged civilians to leave, citing rocket attacks by Ukrainian forces. He urged them to "save themselves" by going to Russia for "leisure and study." 

"We suggested that all residents of the Kherson region, if they wish, to protect themselves from the consequences of missile strikes ... go to other regions," Saldo said in a video message. He urged them to "leave with their children." 

Saldo said this applies to the residents on the west bank of the Dnipro River. "Cities of the Kherson region Kherson and Nova Kakhovka, Hola Prystan and Chornobaivka are subject to daily missile strikes," Vladimir Saldo said in a video posted online Thursday.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin also supported his call. "The government took the decision to organise assistance for the departure of residents of the [Kherson] region," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said on Thursday. 

According to the Russian news agency TASS, the first group of civilians fleeing from Kherson was expected to arrive in Russia’s Rostov region as soon as Friday. Others are expected to head to Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014. 

Meanwhile, Ukraine has claimed that its forces were steadily advancing along the Southern front and has managed to make territorial gains, including the recapture of 75 settlements in the Kherson region in the last month. In the east, Ukraine's armed forces have recaptured 502 settlements in the Kharkiv region, 43 in the Donetsk region and seven in the Luhansk region, the ministry said.

Despite this, Saldo's deputy, Kirill Stremousov, in his statement, tried to play down the announcement, saying that "no one's retreating ... no one is planning to leave the territory of the Kherson region."

Meanwhile, Russia continued to attack critical infrastructure across Ukraine, which they claim is a retaliation for the blast on the Crimea bridge. Missiles were fired at the Zaporizhzhia region capital overnight. According to Zaporizhzhia regional governor Oleksandr Starukh, several explosions were reported in the city overnight at infrastructure facilities, causing fires. There were no victims in preliminary reports, and further details about specific damage were unavailable.

Besides Zaphorizhzhia, Mykolaiv, the nearest big Ukrainian-held city to Kherson, too came under massive Russian bombardment on Thursday. Local officials said civilian facilities were hit. Regional governor Vitaly Kim said the top two floors of a five-storey residential building were destroyed and the rest was under rubble. Three Russian missiles also exploded on Thursday morning near the central market in Kupiansk, a major railway junction city that Ukrainian forces recaptured during their big advance there in September. 

The missiles destroyed shops, carpeting surrounding streets with glass shards, rubble, and twisted metal sheets.

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