Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has ordered troops to withdraw from the western bank of Ukraine’s Dnipro River, meaning that the forces were retreating from Kherson — the first big city to fall to Moscow after it launched its invasion on February 24.
Shoigu announced the decision on state TV, with Russia’s commander in Ukraine, Gen Sergei Surovikin reporting on the situation on the ground in Kherson.
“It is appropriate to organise defence along the barrier border of the Dnipro River, on its left bank… The decision to defend the left bank of the Dnipro is not an easy one. At the same time, we will save the lives of our military and the combat capability of the troops,” Ukrayinska Pravda quoted Surovikin as saying.
“The manoeuvre of the troops will be carried out as soon as possible. The troops will occupy the prepared defensive positions on the left bank of the Dnipro,” he added.
The main part of the Kherson city is located on the right bank of the wide river, and Surovikin called it a difficult decision to withdraw but it would most importantly preserve lives and combat capability of the Russian forces.
He explained that although the Russian air defence has been successfully repelling Ukrainian shelling of Kherson, up to 20 per cent of the rockets can still hit targets and the city and nearby settlements cannot be fully supplied, reports Xinhua news agency.
Meanwhile, Shoigu demanded Surovikin to take all measures to ensure the safe relocation of the personnel, armaments and hardware behind the Dnieper River.
Following the withdrawal, Russian troops could be deployed to carry out offensives in other directions, Surovikin added.
He also claimed that Ukraine had lost 9,500 soldiers in the battles for Kherson, whilst Russia’s losses were apparently 7-8 times less.
But Ukrainian authorities have claimed that they see no signs of Russia retreating from Kherson without a fight.
“Actions speak louder than words. Ukraine sees no signs that Russia is leaving Kherson without a fight. A significant part of the Russian troops remain in the city, and additional reserves are being sent into the region,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a social media post.
“Ukraine is liberating territories utilising intelligence data, not staged TV statements,” he added.
In his nightly address to the nation, Zelensky said the armed forces are moving forward “very cautiously, attentively, without undue risk” in order to liberate Ukrainian land with minimum losses.
“This is exactly how we are going to ensure the liberation of Kherson, Kakhovka, Donetsk, and other cities in our country. But this will be a result of our efforts, our defence operations.
“Those that are currently going on and those that we are still being planned,” he added.
Russian troops swept across southern Ukraine from annexed Crimea at the start of the war, seizing Kherson city in early March.
They also launched attacks in the south, east and north of the country, including surrounding the capital, Kiev.
In recent months, however, Ukraine’s forces have made significant advances.
This counter-offensive escalated in September, when Ukraine drove back Russian forces, retaking the cities of Izyum and Kupiansk, both key supply hubs for Moscow’s forces.