On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin imposed martial law in four regions of Ukraine that he says are part of Russia, while some residents of the Russian-controlled city of Kherson escaped by boat following Moscow’s warning of an oncoming attack.
Russian state television aired footage of people fleeing Kherson and depicted the movement, from the right side of the River Dnipro to its left bank, as an effort to clear the city of civilians prior to it being turned into a battlefield.
After Russian soldiers in the region were pushed back by 20-30 km (13-20 miles) in recent weeks, Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the local administration supported by Russia, issued a video appeal. They run the risk of being cornered against the western bank of Ukraine’s 2,200 km (1367 miles) long Dnipro River.
Putin informed his Security Council that he was imposing martial rule in the four Ukrainian areas that it partially occupies and aims to fully control, including the Kherson region, in a decision that appeared to be intended to help Russia strengthen its hold.
It was unclear what the immediate effects would be other than significantly stricter security measures on the ground.
In addition, Putin signed a decree limiting travel to and from eight regions bordering Ukraine.
The head of the Ukrainian president’s office, Andriy Yermak, accused Russia of staging a propaganda show in Kherson.
Yermak said on the Telegram messaging app that “The Russians are trying to scare the people of Kherson with fake newsletters about the shelling of the city by our army, and also arrange a propaganda show with evacuation.”
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Eight months after being invaded, Ukraine is prosecuting major counter-offensives in the east and south to try to take as much territory as it can before winter after routing Russian forces in some areas.
Kherson is the biggest population centre Moscow has seized and held since it began its “special military operation” in Ukraine on Feb. 24. The city is on territory which President Vladimir Putin says is now formally incorporated into Russia, a move Ukraine and the West do not recognise.
The conflict has killed thousands, displaced millions, pulverised Ukrainian cities, shaken the global economy and revived Cold War-era geopolitical fissures.
Ukrainian cities have also been struck in recent days by drones and missiles, and Vitali Klitschko, Kyiv’s mayor, said the capital’s air defences were in action once again on Wednesday.
‘We do not plan to surrender the city’
In Kherson, Stremousov said the city and especially its right bank could be shelled by Ukrainian forces, adding that residents who left would be given accommodation inside Russia.
“I ask you to take my words seriously and to interpret them as a call to evacuate as fast as you possibly can,” he said.
“We do not plan to surrender the city, we will stand until the last moment.”