Kherson. What do Russians plan?

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I should calm down joyful feelings of those Ukrainians who perceive the escape of occupation administration of Kherson oblast and «evacuation» of people from the right bank of Dnipro as the «good will» of Russians. Like their retreat from Kyiv oblast. To the contrary, Russians strengthen their military forces on the right bank, as Valentyna Samar, chief editor of the Center for Journalist Investigations, writes in her article for ZN.UA.

Russian occupation «government» of Kherson oblast and «administration» staffed with collaborators do leave Kherson. «Capital» of the fake subject of the Russian Federation was partially relocated to Genichesk. To be precise, some Kherson administration officials were observed in the Mayor’s Office of Genichesk and buildings of Genichesk raion state administration whereas Kiril Stremousov, «deputy governor of Kherson oblast», settled in resort area of the Arabat Spit. 

It is likely that Russian public officials headed by «oblast prime minister» Sergei Eliseev, the officer of the Russian Federal Security Service, will «govern» Kherson region from Crimea. But their exact location and their «management» have nothing to do with actual military operations. Moreover, their absence in Kherson facilitates realization of military tasks for commanders of the Russian military units in Kherson region. Absence of civilians also eases their actions. 

Deportation in the form of evacuation 

After Ukrainian liberation of dozens of villages of Kherson region on the right bank of Dnipro, Russian occupants started massive relocation of civilian population. At first, they evacuated families of collaborators from villages liberated by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Then, they lied that they brought all willing Kherson residents to relax in Crimea or Russia. Or that they brought hundreds of children on vacation. 

Rumors about evacuation of people from Dnipro right bank were first refuted by Russian «governors» («do not panic – there will be no evacuation!»). Then, they talked about «organized relocation of the civilian population of Beryslav, Bilozerka, Snihurivka and Oleksandrivsk municipalities». Finally, Stremousov yelled on TV camera about «the quickest possible evacuation».

However, it is not the evacuation which the country-occupant must have conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population. It should be emphasized that Russia did not allow any «green corridor» to evacuate civilians of Kherson region from war zone during the so-called «special military operation». Russia did not allow any humanitarian cargo with drugs or food. 

Families with children went to free territory at their own risk. They ran from Kryvy Rih to Melitopol routes and spent many days in long queues waiting for «Russian permits» at checkpoints. Several columns of refugees were cynically shot by Russian occupants. Adults and children were killed by them. Dozens of people did not pass «filtering» at checkpoints and were consequently imprisoned and tortured. The destiny of many people is not known. 

But today Kremlin suddenly decided to take care of civilian people: occupants bring them by boats from Kherson to Oleshky and Gola Pristan during last six days, then – to Jankoy by buses. After Jankoy, people are transported by buses or railways to final destination points. As «governor» Saldo told, they planned to «evacuate» up to 60 thousand people whereas 15 thousand people were already «evacuated» (the number is dubious as it is impossible to carry so many people by eight boat trips). 

Russian approach towards «evacuation» is weird. Residents of Beryslav located almost on the front line heard almost nothing about «evacuation». On the other hand, occupants frighten people of Kherson district, in order to force them to evacuate. Many buses came to Tokarivka, Darivka and Mykilske villages of Kherson district on the first day of announced evacuation. A few local residents agreed to evacuate. As local resident told the CJI, «local collaborators frighten people that the Armed Forces of Ukraine will bomb the right bank of Dnipro and that they will shoot everybody. Many people do not have access to information; Internet connection is bad. We hide from Russians as we do not want to go to Russia». 

Why this Russian buzz is not about proper evacuation? First of all, people are not brought to safer left bank of Dnipro (there is no military fighting there). People are moved to «other subjects of the Russian Federation». Annexed Crime cannot accept so many people as it was overcrowded by Russians during eight years of occupation. Kherson residents are «evacuated» to Krasnodar krai, Stavropol and other Russian regions. Russian public officials openly talk about it and emphasize that «evacuation» is free of charge and evacuated Ukrainians can freely choose the place of their future residence in Russia. 

Hence, it is about deportation of Ukrainian citizens, even if they received Russian passports. 

The IV Geneva Convention directly bans forced relocation of civilian population on the occupied territory as well as deportation, regardless of motives and destination points. If for the sake of safety of population and military needs, such acts are inevitable, Russia is obliged to inform Ukraine and bring back all relocated people to their homeland after military fighting will be over on the occupied territory. 

However, it is likely that people brought from Kherson region to Russia will never come back. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Khusnullin promised to offer housing certificates to all relocated people, i.e. to grant them the right for permanent residence and housing in Russia (these promises seem to be empty as there are so many Russian citizens waiting in queues for relocating from their emergency houses…). 

It supports the statement that Russians plan and execute not evacuation but deportation. They are going to change the population structure of Kherson region. The process was initiated at the beginning of the Russian occupation. Russian military occupied houses of Kherson residents who ran from the occupied city to the territory controlled by Ukraine. There are numerous cases when Russian occupants brought in their families from Russian regions. Some houses were distributed to Russian «specialists» brought by occupation «administration» from Russia to work on «new territories». If Russia will hold these territories for long time, then, they will be populated by Russians as it happened in Crimea in 1944 after deportation of Crimean Tatars or in Western Ukraine after the Second World War when «unreliable» Ukrainians were expelled. 

Ukrainian government and international organizations should also worry about another data announced by Russians. Occupants state that around 5 thousand children were «evacuated» from Kherson region. This number seems be more or less reliable as relocation of children outside the region started during the summer – hundreds of children were sent to Crimean and Russian camps «for relaxation». But they were never brought back. Though, Russians let their parents join them. 

In accordance with the data of Eskender Bariev, member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, 1 939 children are now in Yevpatoria. They were brought by occupants from Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. The majority of them are not orphans, i.e. their parents reside on occupied territories of the Ukrainian South. However, Russian occupants say nothing about their coming back to parents. Moreover, they plan «to distribute» them among Crimean schools after October 24. It is also reported that Russians plan «to evacuate» children’s houses of Kherson oblast. Crimean school pupils are also being prepared for «emergency evacuation». 

«It was reported that directors of Crimean schools were informed that children may be evacuated upon the decision of administration but without their parents’ consent – «for security reasons and protection of children from threats». I address parents of Crimea: be careful, find schools close to your houses. It might happen you would find your children far away in Russia», as Eskender Bariev told

At the same time, Russian military do not leave Kherson – they regroup their forces. Using evacuation boats and buses with civilians as the human shield, they strengthen their defense lines. 

Evacuation as the «human shield»

The Ukrainian Army General Staff informed on October 22 that up to two thousand Russian newly mobilized soldiers came to the temporary occupied territory of Kherson region, in order to recover personnel losses and strengthen defense lines. New units are formed by newly mobilized as well as soldiers who concluded military service contracts. In accordance with expert estimates, Russians transferred 4-5 battalion tactical groups (up to 3,5 thousand people) to the right bank of Dnipro during last two weeks. 

«Newly mobilized Russian soldiers were directed to the right bank of Dnipro with the purpose to strengthen Russian occupation troops there. 400 mobilized soldiers from Crimea were also sent there. They were enlisted into the 126th brigade of coastal defense of the Russian Black Sea Fleet based in Perevalne village near Simferopol. Seven newly mobilized men were already killed and their bodies were brought home», as military expert Vladyslav Seleznyov says. 

According to his information, Russian occupation troops succeeded in re-launching the supply of key materials over Dnipro. For example, the fuel is transported by pipeline installed on railway bridge. «They have necessary resources; the fighting will continue and Ukrainian counteroffensive will not be an easy task», as Seleznyov believes. 

Local residents confirm that Russian troops regroup on both banks of Dnipro. Military transport moves at night, sometimes, by field roads. Russian military units are rotated in right bank villages almost every week but their overall number does not decline. 

«Many dirty and stinking Russian soldiers appeared in Beryslav five days ago. Perhaps, they are from «DNR» as «DNR» soldiers always looked like homeless people. Then, they disappeared but many soldiers from Caucasus came in. I do not know what’s going on. On the other hand, sellers near bus station tell that many Russian soldiers often asked them how to get to Kakhovka Hydro Power Station», as the resident of Beryslav says. 

Occupants evacuated military hospital on the night of the 20th of October from seized premises of Beryslav central district hospital. Field hospital and checkpoint suddenly disappeared near Kostyrka village of Novoraiska unified territorial community. Russians left some property including tents and canisters for fuel (they were immediately taken by local residents). Occupants «calmed down» residents of Beryslav by saying «do not worry, new hospital will arrive soon», as Kherson journalist Oleg Baturin reports. 

Russians need additional «protection shields» to transfer their troops and equipment over Dnipro safely, to withdraw occupation administration, intelligence personnel, propagandists and «Russian integration specialists» and take away stolen property from Kherson. Transportation corridors over Dnipro are under shelling of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. That is why they launched «very quick evacuation» of population. It increased significantly number of passengers of river transport (boats can carry from 80 to 400 people). Military personnel can be easily «mixed» with civilians and protected from the Ukrainian long range artillery. Then, they can «mix» stolen personal cars carrying military personnel with civilian cars on ferries travelling along Antoniv Bridge. 

Exemplary case of «civilian shield» occurred on the last night. The ferry under Antoniv Bridge was hit by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Occupants blamed them for killing three civilians, including children. But their version is very dubious. This ferry works from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. The curfew starts at 10 p.m. Is it possible that ordinary Kherson residents will evacuate by ferry around 11 p.m. and out of usual schedule?! Then, it was reported that there were no dead children and that this night ferry carried personnel of the occupation military and civilian administration to the left bank of Dnipro, including Russian propagandists from TV company «Tavria». Oleg Klokov, its co-founder, was killed on the ferry. Earlier Klokov worked at several Russian TV channels. He has been an officer of the Russian intelligence services. He participated in both Chechen wars as the member of the Russian Special Forces. He coordinated 13 Russian TV teams during Orange Revolution in 2004 (Igor Solovei investigated thoroughly his career). More to that, Ukrainian journalists from «Suspilne. Kherson» TV channel recognized their personal property on the photo of a car hit on the ferry. The car itself was stolen from the Ukrainian TV channel. 

Who and when will explode «the dam» of Kakhovka Hydro Power Station?

Russian occupants told that they took «hard decision to evacuate» people from the right bank of Kherson region because the Armed Forces of Ukraine were going to explode the «dam of Kakhovka Hydro Power Station». The explosion would become a catastrophe and kill a lot of civilian people. In Ukraine, these declarations were perceived as an intention of Russia itself to make terrorist act «under false flag» and to accuse Ukraine of flooding dozens of settlements. 

First of all, let us determine what object is meant. Today Russians use the Kakhovka bridge to transport its military personnel and equipment from the left to the right bank of Dnipro. But the bridge is built not upon the dam but on the foundations of the gateway of Kakhovka Hydro Power Station. As it is written in all manuals, the construction of Kakhovka hydro station (the last in a series of Dnipro hydro stations) increased the water level in Dnipro by 16 meters and created Kakhovka water reservoir (its volume is 18.19 cubic kilometers or billions of water cubic meters). If the system of gateways will be destroyed, the released water in reservoir will be the main threat. 

Kakhovka Hydro Power Station. Photo: Ukrhydroenergo

Russian occupants and propagandists frighten people of Kherson region by this threat but fears are easily refuted by school level geography and simple logic. Kakhovka Hydro Power Station is situated on the left bank of Dnipro. The right bank is higher than the left one. Possible flood will hit primarily the left bank of Dnipro. Only one island within borders of Kherson City might suffer but not the city itself. The bridge can be damaged without damaging gateways as HIMARS already demonstrated. Then, what is the military purpose for the Armed Forces of Ukraine to explode gateways? To undermine further Ukrainian counteroffensive?! 

Today Russian army also does not have any military purposes to explode gateways of Kakhovka Hydro Power Station. If it holds the right bank of Dnipro, then, what is the sense to flood Russian troops on the left one? But this purpose will make sense when the Armed Forces of Ukraine will knock Russians out and threaten to cross Dnipro and land on its left bank. And when the Russian army will withdraw from Kakhovka bridgehead, then, it might organize the flooding of Oleshki, Gola Prystan and another 80 settlements. 

And here is another myth about possible outcomes of the explosion of Kakhovka Hydro Power Station. It is argued that, in case of explosion, it will be impossible to deliver Dnipro water by the North Crimean channel to Crimea. First of all, the delivery of water to the channel is regulated by other gateways. They are situated in Tavriisk, not in Kakhovka. Second, the issue of water supply to Crimea is not urgent at all during autumn. The water was always supplied by the channel to Crimea during the summer. The gateways were closed from autumn till spring… 

This material is created under the support of the Council of Europe. The views expressed in the material are the responsibility of its authors; they may not reflect the official policy of the Council of Europe.