October 22, 2022


Russia likely plans a mass withdrawal from vulnerable positions in the southern Kherson region to avoid a “devastating rout” in Ukraine, a U.S. think tank has assessed, amid Kyiv’s advance in its counteroffensive. As Moscow anticipates imminent Ukrainian advances in Kherson, it is likely setting conditions to remove “military and occupation elements” along the western bank of the Dnieper River, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

In recent weeks, Ukrainian troops have been pressing ahead with a counteroffensive in the region, which was seized by Russian forces in the early days of the war. Kyiv has taken back settlements along the western bank of the Dnieper River since early September.

Meanwhile, Russian officials, and hosts and guests on Russian state TV, appear to be preparing citizens for bad news amid Kyiv’s intensifying counteroffensive.

Kherson residents and pro-Russian officials began to leave Kherson on Wednesday, with authorities saying that they plan to transport about 50,000 to 60,000 people to the east bank of the Dnieper River within a week.

Citing unverified reports from Telegram accounts based in Kherson city, the ISW said that Russian forces disbanded and looted a fire station in the city, and ferried fire trucks, stolen civilian cars, and other miscellaneous household items across the Dnieper River to Hola Prystan, another city in the Kherson region.

The ISW noted that the Ukrainian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty also reported on Thursday that Russian forces are now moving military equipment from the west bank to the east bank of the Dnieper River in the face of recent Ukrainian advances.

The outlet published satellite imagery that appears to show a Russian cargo ferry traveling across the Dnieper River from Kozatsk, located on the west bank, to Nova Kakhovka, on the east bank.

The think tank said these reports indicate that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops are likely deliberately removing large amounts of personnel and equipment from the west bank of the Dnieper River amid Ukrainian advances. “Russian forces have likely learned, at least in part, from their failures during the panicked Russian retreat from Kharkiv Oblast in the face of a previous Ukrainian counteroffensive,” the ISW assessed, referring to a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in northeast Ukraine last month that saw Kyiv recapture swathes of its territory in just weeks.  “The militarily sensible thing would be to remove men and equipment in good order to avoid another devastating rout. Such a rout in Kherson could trap Russian forces and equipment on the west bank of the Dnieper River,” the ISW said.

Putin on Wednesday announced that he had signed a law introducing martial law in the Kherson region, and three other Ukrainian regions that he proclaimed to have formally annexed, in violation of international law.

Meanwhile, the new commander of Putin’s army in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, told the state-run Rossiya 24 TV news channel this week that “the situation is not easy” in Kherson, and that “hard decisions must be made.”  The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Friday that up to 2,000 Russian conscripts have arrived in Kherson to make up for Putin’s combat losses.

Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Foreign Ministry for comment.