Putin declares martial law in 4 regions of Ukraine: live updates

Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian occupation officials moved civilians out of Kherson on Wednesday, another sign that Moscow’s grip on the strategic southern Ukrainian city is slipping, as Russian President Vladimir V. Putin sought to regain control of this and other occupied areas by declaring martial law.

Mr Putin’s move was an effort to strengthen the Kremlin’s authority over Kherson and three other Ukrainian regions he recently claimed to annex, even as his army is losing ground in those areas to Ukrainian forces and the Western allies reject annexations as illegal.

As Russian proxies in Kherson said they would move up to 60,000 civilians to the east bank of the Dnipro and move its civil administration there, they appeared to be preparing for a battle for control of the region. Amid a week-long Ukrainian counteroffensive, the pro-Kremlin leader in Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, said the relocations would protect civilians and help Russian forces fortify defenses to “repel any attack”.

Ukrainian officials called the plans a “propaganda show”. Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, accused Russian proxies of scaring civilians by claiming Ukraine would bomb the city. He called it a “rather primitive tactic, given that the armed forces do not fire on Ukrainian cities – this is done exclusively by Russian terrorists”.

Ukrainian forces have been advancing steadily for weeks along both banks of the river in Kherson, an area that Moscow seized at the start of the war and declared part of Russia. Since late August, Ukrainian troops have damaged bridges near the city of Kherson, making it harder for Moscow to resupply the thousands of troops stationed there.

Western analysts have suggested Russian positions in and around the city are untenable without the bridges, and US officials said Russian commanders had urged a withdrawal from Kherson but Mr Putin had called off. But Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the Kherson region moved more slowly than its recent advances to the east, and it was far from clear whether its forces could soon mount a push to retake the city of Kherson.

On Tuesday, the general whom Mr Putin appointed earlier this month to command the war in Ukraine, Sergei Surovikin, said he was ready to make “tough decisions” regarding military deployments in the Kherson region, without specifying what these decisions would involve.

Ukrainian officials have cautiously greeted hints of a Russian withdrawal of at least civilian administrators, saying the announcements could be aimed at an internal Russian audience, signaling a commitment to protecting civilians or preparing for Russian military action in the region. Videos broadcast on Russian media showed lines of civilians apparently boarding ferries at a river port to evacuate to the east bank of the Dnipro.

The Kherson region spans both banks of the river, with the city of Kherson, the regional capital, located on the western side. The West Bank is a stretch of farmland criss-crossed by rivers and irrigation canals, and one of the most important battlefields of the war.

During the summer, Ukrainian troops reduced Russian supply lines by firing US-supplied precision-guided rockets at all four bridges over the Dnipro River in Russian-controlled areas. All are now largely destroyed.

In late August, Ukraine opened an offensive with ground troops, advancing in slow, bloody fighting through several dozen villages while pushing Russian forces back towards the Dnipro. Russian announcements to evacuate civilians and the civil administration could signal a weakening of military defenses, presaging a Russian withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro in what would be a major setback for Moscow – but could also be a ruse.

Mr Saldo, a Ukrainian politician who had switched sides at the start of the full-scale Russian invasion, told Russian state news agency RIA on Wednesday that all ministries would be evacuated to the eastern bank. Earlier on Wednesday, the occupation government said it would evacuate 50,000 to 60,000 civilians across the river and to the occupied Crimean peninsula or to Russia. Residents risked artillery fire from the Ukrainian army or flooding from the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam on the Dnipro River, Saldo said.


October 19, 2022

An earlier version of this article misidentified the location where Russian proxy agents in Kherson, Ukraine said they would move up to 60,000 civilians. This is the east side of the Dnipro river, not the west side.