Russia's men in Kherson tell civilians to flee, pledge to repel looming Ukrainian attack

LONDON, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Russian-installed officials in the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson said on Wednesday they were preparing to defend it from imminent Ukrainian attack and urged civilians to flee as soon as possible.

The Russian-appointed governor of the region, Vladimir Saldo, said in a TV interview: "No one is about to surrender Kherson but it's undesirable for residents to be in a city where military actions are going to be conducted."

"We expect an attack, and the Ukrainian side doesn't hide that," Saldo said.

His deputy Kirill Stremousov said a Ukrainian offensive was coming soon. "I ask you to take my words seriously and take them to mean: the fastest possible evacuation," he said in a late night post on Telegram.

Kherson is one of four Ukrainian regions that Russia partly controls and whose annexation it proclaimed last month, placing them under its nuclear umbrella.

Local woman walks in a street to fill up bottles with fresh drinking water, as the main supply pipeline for drinking water for the city was damaged in Kherson region at the beginning of Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Mykolaiv, Ukraine October 16, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

If Ukraine were to retake it, it would deal a huge new defeat to President Vladimir Putin's military and test his stated commitment to defend what he claims as Russian lands with all available means including nuclear weapons.

Russian forces in Kherson have been driven back by 20-30 km (13-20 miles) in the last few weeks and are at risk of being pinned against the right or western bank of the Dnipro River.

Saldo said on Russian TV: "At the current moment we have enough possibilities to repel attacks and go on the counter-offensive, if the tactical situation demands it. The city will hold out, we simply need to protect peaceful residents. The soldiers know what they have to do, they will stand to the death."

More than 5,000 people had already left in the past two days and an estimated 10,000 people a day would be moved out over the next six days, he said.

On Tuesday night, the new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine made a rare acknowledgment of the pressures they were under from Ukrainian offensives to retake southern and eastern areas that Moscow says it annexed just weeks ago.

Referring to Kherson, General Sergei Surovikin said: "The situation in this area is difficult. The enemy is deliberately striking infrastructure and residential buildings."

Writing by Mark Trevelyan; editing by Guy Faulconbridge

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