Ukrainian forces have advanced at some locations to the western suburbs of Kherson, as Russian Federation (RF) authorities continued preparations to hold a “public referendum” in the occupied city, official and news reports said on April 25. Vladislav Nazarov, spokesman for the Ukrainian Army’s Joint Command South (JCS), said in a statement on Monday, April 25 that Ukrainian units have recaptured five villages on Kherson’s eastern approaches, and Ukraine Armed Forces (UAF) formations are moving into positions to threaten RF forces in and around the city directly. Central government announcements repeated Nazarov’s claim, but neither official source named the allegedly liberated villages.
A statement from the Kherson regional defense command said that in attacking battles over the weekend UAF forces operating in the south had destroyed six RF tanks or infantry fighting vehicles, a Pantsyr S1 anti-aircraft system, and an unstated number of trucks; and killed 73 RF service personnel.
According to social media posts by persons claiming to be operating with UAF units in the Mykolaiv-Kherson sector, or reporting for those units, the main effort of the UAF advance is south-east along the M-14 highway, and UAF forward patrols are present in strength in the villages of Nadezhivka and Kyselivka, at the edge of greater Kherson, and less than 10 kilometers from the center of Kherson.
Occupied by RF forces on 28 Feb. Kherson is critical to RF plans in Ukraine’s south. It is the largest Ukrainian city to be fully controlled by the RF since the invasion that began on Feb. 24. A strategically-important bridge across the massive Dnipro River – needed by the RF to supply forces to the north, or by the UAF to advance south towards Crimea or Mariupol – is in the Antonivka District of Kherson.
Heorhiy Tuka, a military volunteer who formerly served as a senior official in Ukraine’s Occupied Territories Ministry said in an interview on April 25 with Obozrevatel magazine that Kherson and the towns and villages around it are also critical to RF plans to conquer a land bridge of Ukrainian territory between Rostov Region in Russia and Moldova, thereby cutting Ukraine off from the sea.
Approaching UAF forces notwithstanding, RF authorities are moving forward with plans to hold a public “referendum” in the city of Kherson, which would declare the region independent from Ukraine and loyal to Moscow, Tuka said.
Residents of the city of Kherson have repeatedly demonstrated against RF occupation, at times in the face of RF troops’ opening fire on demonstrators. At least two Kherson residents thought to be cooperating with RF authorities – one a mid-level government official, the other a pro-Russia blogger – have died in gangland-style assassinations thought to be linked with pro-UAF partisans operating in the region.
There is practically no public support to RF authorities in Kherson but, Tuka said, the Kremlin plans to use intimidation and gross election fraud to make it seem like the referendum is approved. The vote could take place between May 1 and May 9, he said.
A Ukrainian army sitrep issued on April 25 stated that RF authorities had planned the referendum for April 27, but ordered a delay due to insufficient organization and near-total public opposition to renouncing Ukrainian sovereignty.
In 2014 the Kremlin used point-of-the-gun public referendums in Ukraine’s Crimea, Luhansk and Donetsk Regions to try and legalize RF military invasion and conquest. The world community, with the rare exceptions of North Korea and Cuba, have called the referendums illegitimate and the Moscow-imposed regimes in those regions in gross violation of international law and human rights principles. Lyudmyla Denysova, human rights ombudswoman for the Ukrainian Parliament, said in a statement on April 24 that in the occupied town of Kakhovka, some 70 km east of Kherson, RF “police” are searching for citizens with military experience, to identify them as possible anti-RF partisans, or to draft them into the RF military to fight against the UAF.
Persons detained are subjected to torture so as to force them to identify other opponents of the RF regime. Ukrainians held in Kakhovka jails for interrogation are subjected to electric shocks and beatings, Denysova claimed.
Ukrainian news and social media accounts of RF press gangs in occupied territories forcing men of military age are widespread and in individual cases confirmed by the Kyiv Post. Human rights groups and independent news reports have generally confirmed that torture is a common tactic applied by RF authorities in occupied towns and cities, including Kherson. It was not possible to confirm Denysova’s claim about torture in Kakhovka.
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