Ukraine has warned residents in southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to evacuate as it prepares to launch a counteroffensive to retake the area. The Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions were quickly occupied by Russian troops in late February after they crossed the bridge from Russian-annexed Crimea.
Late on Friday night, Iryna Vereshchuk, the deputy prime minister for the ministry of reintegration of temporarily occupied territories, called on Ukrainians in the occupied territories to leave by “all means possible”.
“You must look for a way to leave because our armed forces will de-occupy. There will be a huge battle. I don’t want to scare anyone, everyone understands everything anyway,” said Vereshchuk. She said that evacuations are taking place and that people in the occupied territories were aware.
Yuriy Sobolevskyi, the deputy chairman of the Kherson regional council, told Ukraine’s United News on Saturday that although it is very difficult to evacuate, “it must be done”. He told those who cannot leave to prepare for heavy fighting.
“Those who can’t [leave] in any way should prepare for the fact that they will need shelter again, it is necessary to have a supply of water, a certain amount of food in order to survive the onslaught of our troops,” said Sobolevskyi.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based thinktank, said on 6 July that Ukrainian forces may be setting the conditions for a counter-offensive in Kherson region.
Meanwhile, the battles continue to rage at strategic points along the frontlines in Ukraine’s east and south.
Russia has continued to fire artillery and rockets on urban areas in the Ukrainian-controlled Donetsk, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv regions, injuring and killing civilians.
The level of violence ramped up in new areas of Donetsk this week as Russian forces advanced from newly captured territory in neighboring Luhansk.
Serhiy Haidai, the head of Luhansk’s regional military administration, said on Friday that Russian forces have not slowed their campaign, rejecting western assessments that Russia had paused to rest and regroup after it successfully occupied almost the entire Luhansk region last week.
Haidai said on Telegram that Russian forces were “firing along the entire frontline” as they attempt to conquer more territory in the Donbas, control of which is one of their professed strategic goals.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional-military administration, said on Saturday afternoon that Russia is shelling the Ukrainian-controlled town of Sloviansk “day and night”, and the nearby town of Druzhivka was hit by a Russian missile. The town of Kramatorsk was also hit, said Kyrylenko.
Kyrylenko said on Saturday morning that five people were killed and eight injured on 8 July, after a similarly heavy day of shelling in Donetsk.
Six rockets were fired on the city of Mykolaiv early on Saturday morning, according to his elder, Oleksandr Sienkovych. The rockets hit residential buildings and private houses but luckily no one was injured, he said.
In the north-eastern city of Kharkiv, a Russian rocket hit a residential building, injuring at least six people, according to regional authorities.
In the Donbas region, where Russian forces have been concentrated, Russia has been using reams of artillery shells to flatten buildings in contested cities. The tactical forces Ukrainian troops out of the positions they hold inside buildings and into retreat.
Using newly obtained precision rocket launchers, Ukraine’s new strategy has been to target Russian ammunition depots behind the frontlines.
Over the last week, Ukraine has reported dozens of successful strikes on Russian command posts, which include ammunition depots. It is not yet clear if the rate at which Ukraine is destroying Russian ammunition is enough to significantly hinder their advance.
Pointing to their successes, Volodymyr Zelenskiy pleaded with the US for more high-mobility artillery rocket systems (Himars), saying they were what helps Ukraine “press the enemy”. Hours later the US president, Joe Biden, signed a weapons package for Ukraine worth up to $400m, bringing Ukraine’s total to at least 12.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, said this week that his forces had barely started their campaign in Ukraine, challenging the west and Ukraine to beat them on the battlefield.
However, the UK’s Ministry of Defense questioned Putin’s statement on Saturday. The ministry said in a tweet that Russia was currently moving infantry troops and “obsolete or inappropriate” armored vehicles towards Ukraine for future offensives.
The statement said that the vehicles being deployed were designed in the 1950s as “a tractor to pull artillery” with “very limited armour”, and stood in contrast to the powerful armored infantry vehicles Russia had used in February.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism