Russian-installed governor of Ukraine's Kherson suggests residents leave

The Russian-installed governor of Ukraine's Kherson region offered to help its residents leave amid intense fighting between Russian and advancing Ukrainian forces.

Tanks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces drive during military drills at a training ground near the border with Russian-annexed Crimea in Kherson region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine press service November 17, 2021. (photo credit: PRESS SERVICE OF GENERAL STAFF OF THE ARMED FORCES OF UKRAINE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Tanks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces drive during military drills at a training ground near the border with Russian-annexed Crimea in Kherson region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine press service November 17, 2021.
(photo credit: PRESS SERVICE OF GENERAL STAFF OF THE ARMED FORCES OF UKRAINE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

The Russian-installed governor of Ukraine's Kherson region offered on Thursday to help its residents leave amid intense fighting between Russian and advancing Ukrainian forces - prompting a rapid denial from his deputy that an "evacuation" was taking place.

In a video statement on Telegram, Vladimir Saldo publicly asked for Moscow's help in transporting civilians to safer regions of Russia.

"Every day, the cities of Kherson region are subjected to missile attacks," Saldo said.

"As such, the leadership of Kherson administration has decided to provide Kherson families with the option to travel to other regions of the Russian Federation to rest and study," he said, adding that people should "leave with their children."

"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."

 Local residents gather to receive financial aid during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the Russia-controlled city of Kherson (credit: REUTERS) Local residents gather to receive financial aid during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the Russia-controlled city of Kherson (credit: REUTERS)

But moments later, the region's deputy governor posted a video saying Saldo's appeal to Moscow was "not a call for evacuation."

"There is and can be no evacuation in Kherson region," Kirill Stremousov said, adding in a written comment: "Nobody is planning to withdraw Russian troops from the Kherson region."

Why is Kherson so important?

Kherson is one of four Ukrainian regions that Russia formally incorporated into its territory this month, a move denounced by Kyiv and the West as an illegal annexation.

Most of the Kherson region was seized by Russia in the first few days after it began its invasion in February, and Ukrainian authorities say hundreds of thousands of its residents have fled, including half the pre-war population of the regional capital.

Since August, it has been the center of a major counter-offensive in which Kyiv says it has retaken more than 1,170 sq km (450 sq miles) of land.

Any major territorial losses in Kherson would restrict Russia's access to the Crimean peninsula further south, whose return Kyiv has coveted since its occupation by Russia in 2014.