Russian forces in Ukraine under pressure as Kherson towns to be evacuated

FILE PHOTO - Commander of Russia's Aerospace Forces Sergei Surovikin attends a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, November 3, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Pool via REUTERS

LONDON, Oct 18 (Reuters) - The new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine acknowledged on Tuesday that his troops were under broad pressure and faced hard choices, as the Russian-appointed governor of occupied Kherson province announced a partial evacuation.

"The situation in the area of the 'Special Military Operation' can be described as tense," Sergei Surovikin, an air force general named this month to command Russia's invasion forces, told the state-owned Rossiya 24 television news channel.

"The enemy continually attempts to attack the positions of Russian troops," he said. "First of all, this concerns the Kupiansk, Lyman and Mykolaiv-Kryvyi Rih sectors."

Kupiansk and Lyman are in eastern Ukraine, while the area between Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih is essentially the northern part of Kherson province in southern Ukraine.

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.

Shortly after Surovikin's comments were aired, the Russian-appointed governor of Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, announced an "organised, gradual displacement" of civilians from four towns on the right bank.

In a video statement, Saldo accused Ukrainian forces, without citing evidence, of planning to destroy a major dam at the Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric power station.

"The Ukrainian side is building up forces for a large-scale offensive," he said.

"There is an immediate danger of flooding... due to the planned destruction of the Kakhovka dam and the release of water from a cascade of power plants further up the Dnipro."

Surovikin appeared to acknowledge there was now a danger of Ukrainian forces advancing towards the city of Kherson, which lies near the mouth of the Dnipro on the west bank, and is hard for Russia to resupply from the east because the main bridge across the Dnipro has been badly damaged by Ukrainian bombing.

Russia captured the city of Kherson largely unopposed in the early days of the invasion, and it remains the only major Ukrainian city that Moscow's forces have seized intact.

"Our further plans and actions regarding the city of Kherson itself will depend on the emerging military-tactical situation. I repeat - it is already very difficult today," Surovikin said.

"We will act consciously, in a timely manner, without ruling out difficult decisions."

Reporting by Reuters, editing by Kevin Liffey, David Ljunggren and Gareth Jones

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