Kherson civilian evacuations ‘complete’: Moscow-installed official
The head of Moscow-annexed Crimea has said evacuations from occupied Kherson organised by Russia's forces amid a Ukrainian counter-offensive were “completed”, after he visited the region with the Kremlin's domestic chief Sergei Kiriyenko.
“The work to organise residents leaving the left side of the Dnipro (river) to safe regions of Russia is completed,” Sergei Aksyonov, the Moscow-appointed head of Crimea, said on Telegram late on Thursday.
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Moscow's occupational authorities in the southern Ukrainian region have urged residents to cross to the right bank of the Dnipro River as Ukrainian forces make gains in the south.
Kyiv compares this to Soviet-like “deportations” of its people.
“The crossing (of the Dnipro) is empty!” Aksyonov said.
He posted photos of himself and other officials, including Kiriyenko, on a riverbank.
On Wednesday, a Russian-installed official in Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, said that at least 70,000 people have left their homes in the region in the space of a week.
Kyiv's army, meanwhile, said Friday Moscow's “so-called evacuation” is continuing.
It claimed that the Russian command in Kherson is trying to “hide the real losses of servicemen” in order to “avoid panic”.
In a sign of Moscow suffering heavy losses, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said late on Thursday that 23 of his fighters were killed in battles around Kherson this week with dozens more wounded.
“At the beginning of this week, one of the Chechen units was shelled in the Kherson region,” Kadyrov, who has sent his militia to fight alongside the Kremlin's forces, said on Telegram.
“23 soldiers were killed and 58 wounded,” he said.
The Kremlin ally rarely reveals defeats but admitted that losses were “big on that day”.
Moscow's forces have vowed to turn Kherson into a “fortress” and not surrender the city, which they took over early in their offensive in March.
Aksyonov said that he and Kiriyenko also visited the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant -- Europe's largest atomic facility -- further north on the Dnipro River in Russian-occupied territory.
He said they “met with the staff and assessed the general situation in the area of the plant”.
Ukraine accuses Moscow's forces of “kidnapping” the plant's staff and said last week that around 50 employees are held in “captivity”.
Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the plant, sparking fears of a nuclear disaster.
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