War in Ukraine: Russia insists situation in Kherson is ‘stable’ amid expectations of Ukrainian push to regain control

Russia has insisted the situation in occupied Kherson is “stable” amid expectations Ukraine could make a push to re-take the city, which has been under Russian control since March.

Ukraine has said Russian troops have raided private homes in the city as they prepare to withdraw – while it has also been claimed the Russian-controlled government has left official buildings in the city, which has been without power for 48 hours.

Civilians who have been able to get messages out have said water and power has been cut off for two days.

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Ukrainian officials have warned the apparent withdrawal of Russia from the former shipbuilding city could be a trap, to lure Ukrainian forces.

A Ukranian woman sits in a car with her family after they managed to flee from the Russian occupied territory of Kherson at the weekend.
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It has been claimed Russian flags have been taken down from administrative buildings and checkpoints are standing unmanned.

However, Kirill Stremousov, the pro-Russian deputy governor of the Kherson region, insisted there was not any “massive advancement” by the Ukrainian army.

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“This morning the situation is stable along the entire front line,” he said on his Telegram channel. “We do not see any massive advance by the Ukrainian army, even though, as you know, the American commands have made it a duty to do so at any cost. At this point, everything is unchanged and without difficult times for our region.”

Russia has stepped up an evacuation of civilians to Russia, which Ukraine has claimed includes the forced relocation of civilians, a war crime, which Moscow denies. Russian president Vladimir Putin has personally endorsed the evacuation.

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“Now, of course, those who live in Kherson should be removed from the zone of the most dangerous actions, because the civilian population should not suffer,” Mr Putin told pro-Kremlin activists on Friday as he marked Russia’s Day of Unity.

In September, Kherson became one of four provinces to be formally annexed by Russia, following a vote of citizens, which the West condemned as a sham.

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It comes as Ukraine’s president hinted at the possibility of peace talks with Russia in a shift from his earlier refusal to negotiate with President Vladimir Putin.

Volodymyr Zelensky urged the international community to “force Russia into real peace talks” and listed his usual conditions for dialogue – the return of all of Ukraine’s occupied lands, compensation for damage caused by the war and the prosecution of war crimes.

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That is a change in rhetoric from a man who signed a decree in late September stating “the impossibility of holding talks” with Mr Putin. But since his preconditions appear to be non-starters for Moscow, it is hard to see how that would advance any talks.

Western weapons and aid have been key to Ukraine’s ability to fight off Russia’s invasion, which some initially expected would more easily roll through the country.

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But US midterm elections are expected to define the amount and the shape of Washington’s future political and financial support for Ukraine.

If Republicans win control of Congress, it could become more difficult for President Joe Biden’s administration to push forward large packages of military and other aid for Ukraine.

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Russia and Ukraine held several rounds of talks in Belarus and Turkey early on in the war, which is now nearing its nine-month mark. The talks stalled after the last meeting of the delegations in Istanbul in March yielded no results.

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