Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered Russian troops to withdraw from the west bank of the Dnieper to the partially occupied Kherson region of Ukraine, another retreat amid a number of setbacks for Moscow in the battlefields of eastern and southeastern Ukraine.
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“Start withdrawing the troops”, Choigou said during a televised meeting with the commander of Russian troops in Ukraine, Army General Sergei Surovikin, on November 9, adding that the withdrawal must be implemented in “the nearest future”.
“The lives of Russian military personnel are always a priority for us. We must also take into account the threats to the civilian population and ensure that all civilians who choose to leave can do so,” Shoigu said. “We must also start withdrawing troops and take all necessary measures to secure the movement of military personnel, weapons and equipment across the Dnieper.”
Kherson was the first city entirely captured by Russia in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” and the only regional capital controlled by Russians since the offensive began on February 24.
For weeks, Ukrainian forces captured villages as they advanced towards the city, and Kremlin-installed leaders in Kherson evacuated civilians.
Earlier on November 9, the Moscow-based deputy head of the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, died in a car accident.
Shoigu’s order came after Surovikin said he was unable to deliver supplies to the city of Kherson and other areas on the western bank of the Dnieper.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces were strengthening their positions “step by step” in the south.
“There’s a lot of joy in the information space today, and it’s understandable why, but…the enemy won’t give us any favors,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
Mykhailo Podolyak, senior adviser to Zelenskiy, earlier said on Twitter that the The Ukrainian side sees “No sign that Russia is leaving Kherson without a fight.”
Part of the Russian group remains in the city of Kherson, he said, adding that additional reserves are being sent to the area. Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, “liberate territories based on intelligence data, not staged TV statements”, he said.
Zelenskiy suggested that the Russians might fake a retreat in order to draw the Ukrainian army into an entrenched battle in the city of Kherson.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, US President Joe Biden said Moscow’s order to withdraw from Kherson was “proof that they have real problems with the Russian military”.
Moscow and Russian officials based in Kherson have said for weeks they were evacuating residents of Kherson – both the city and the region – to “other parts of the Russian Federation” for their safety. Ukraine said the Russian decision amounted to their forced deportation.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Shoigu’s announced withdrawal “is part of a general pattern or picture we’ve seen over the last month that Russia has absolutely lost its momentum. “.
But Stoltenberg also warned against underestimating Russia.
“They still have capabilities,” he said in an interview with Sky News during a visit to London. “We saw the drones. We saw the missile attacks. It shows that Russia can still inflict a lot of damage.”
Kherson is considered by many military analysts to be the most important of the four partially occupied Ukrainian regions that Russia announced annexed in September.
It controls both the only land route to the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia and the mouth of the Dnieper which cuts Ukraine in two.
Earlier on November 9, Russia initiated several suicides drones over the Dnipropetrovsk region in southeastern Ukraine, injuring people and damaging civilian facilities, the head of the regional military administration said, as heavy fighting unfolded in the Donetsk region and in the south.
“Occupiers massively attacked the area with suicide drones,” Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said. Ukrainian air defense destroyed some of the drones, but others hit targets. Russian forces also used drones in an attack on the city of Dnipro, targeting a logistics company. Reznichenko said four employees were injured, and three of them are in serious condition in hospital.
Russian forces also shelled the Nikopol district in the area with Grad missiles and heavy artillery. Reznichenko said the shelling damaged private homes, a factory and a power line, but no one was injured.
Zelenskiy vowed that Ukraine “will not return a single centimeter of our land” to Donetsk, where heavy fighting is ongoing, and he thanked Ukrainian troops occupying positions in the Donbass region.
The epicenter of the battle for the industrial region of Donetsk is around the towns of Bakhmut, Soledar and Avdiyivka.
“Occupant activity remains at an extremely high level – dozens of attacks every day,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address Nov. 8.
“They suffer extraordinarily high losses. But the order remains the same: to advance on the administrative border of the Donetsk region. We will not give up a single centimeter of our land,” he said.
Donetsk is one of four Ukrainian regions that Russia said it annexed in September following referendums deemed fictitious by Kyiv and its Western allies.
Fighting had been going on there between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatist forces since 2014, the same year Russia illegally annexed Crimea.