Russian Federation (RF) authorities on Wednesday, Oct. 19 kicked off massed evacuation of people living in Kherson Region in the Ukrainian south. Occupation authority officials said it was necessary because of an impending Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) offensive.

As many as 50,000-60,000 civilians will leave their homes and thus far the massive population transfer from the left bank to the right bank of the Dnipro River is proceeding smoothly, without direct AFU interference, RF state-controlled media claimed.

The Russian state-controlled news agency Izvestiya on Wednesday, Oct. 19 showed images of long queues of civilians in Kherson carrying personal items, waiting for their turn to ride an army ferry across the river. A man wearing a sweatshirt with the name of the People’s Front volunteer group on it told a reporter that residents of Kherson’s central districts were the first priority to evacuate, and that local authorities had buses and housing on the far side of the river ready to receive evacuees. A single ferry trip can carry a maximum of 200 persons, he said.

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AFU long range artillery units using primarily US-delivered HIMARS precision rocket systems in July began a systematic and, over time, crippling bombardment of three key bridges crossing the Dnipro River, by early September effectively closing the spans to all but foot traffic. The strikes have effectively trapped 20,000-25,000 RF troops on the north side of the river, leaving Moscow’s forces unable to save heavy weapons like tanks and artillery from advancing Ukrainian units and, in effect, cut off from RF supply depots in the south.

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The pro-RF Readovka information platform on Wednesday, Oct. 19, citing a reporter on the scene in Kherson, said the evacuation was proceeding smoothly and “without panic”. Images from the report showed civilians carrying suitcases and, in some cases house pets, climbing onto buses to be driven to a ferry.

Vladimir Saldo, head of the RF’s occupation administration in Kherson and a former mayor of the city, in a morning statement said authorities plan to move 50,000-60,000 people “to safety”. He did not make clear whether evacuation was voluntary or ordered, saying “The transfer is necessary to protect the [civilian] population and to help RF soldiers, here [in Kherson] the Russian army, which is defending Kherson, needs room to maneuver.” He claimed Russia “has no intention of abandoning Kherson”.

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Vitaliy Kim, the Ukrainian official heading the Mykolaiv regional defense administration, confirmed that RF authorities were evacuating civilians from Kherson. RF forces occupied the city, the second-largest captured by the Kremlin since the start of the war, on Mar. 2. Kim said Moscow’s plan was likely to turn Kherson into an area where the AFU would suffer serious casualties.

“Knowing the Russian tactics and also knowing that they are digging fortifications in the Chaplinka area [outside the city] just to hit Kherson, I have a feeling that the Russians are preparing to hit Kherson, unfortunately, ” Kim said in a Wednesday video statement.

Russian Colonel General Sergei Sorovikin, the newly-appointed commander of all RF forces in Ukraine, in an interview on the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 18, said on RF state television that the situation in Kherson is “extremely difficult” and that “difficult decisions cannot be avoided”.

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Surovikin, 55, appeared to be reading questions on a teleprompter and answering them with prepared responses, the Ukrainian independent UNIAN news agency reported. Ukrainian social media pointed to Surovikin’s comments seemingly aimed at preparing Russian television viewers for more bad news from Russia’s now seven month old war in Ukraine.

“We will always operate with the goal of protecting the lives of our people. This is for us a priority. We will act accordingly and in proper time,” Surovikin said in part.

Ukraine’s military last month imposed a near total block on independent news reporting from the line of contact. Since then scattered accounts, by both AFU and RF soldiers posting comment on social media, have surfaced pointing to intensified AFU artillery and ground force activity, and a possible push by Kyiv push towards the Dnipro River shoreside cities of Beryslav and Nova Kakhovka. Such a mini-offensive, if successful, could shrink territory held by RF troops on the Dnipro’s right bank by roughly half.

Ukrainian journalist Andriy Tsaplienko said on Wednesday that RF military social media accounts were widely reporting battles in progress between RF defenders and AFU ground units attacking in the vicinity of the villages of Sukhanove and Pyatykhatky, some 25 km north of Nova Kakhovka.

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RF social media reviewed by Kyiv Post described an AFU ground force of 1,000 men in two battalions, equipped with tanks and artillery, attacking in that sector, but there’s no independent confirmation of this.

At 10:30 A.M. Ukraine’s Group of Forces South (GFS) claimed troops on Wednesday shot down a Russian Ka-52 attack helicopter “in the Beryslav sector”.

Ukrainian army military intelligence on Wednesday released a recording of a purported telephone conversation between a wounded RF soldier and his mother, in which the son complained he’d suffered multiple shrapnel wounds from a grenade dropped by a UAF drone, and that 24 hours following the blast he was still in trenches waiting to be evacuated to hospital. He also said unit medics had only basic medicines past their expiry date to treat his injuries, calling the way the RF army handles casualties “like for animals”.

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