LONDON (Reuters) -A Russian region adjoining Ukraine said it was preparing to receive refugees from the Russian-held part of Ukraine’s Kherson province, after its Russian-appointed leader proposed on Thursday that residents leave to seek safety as Ukrainian forces advance.
Most of the Kherson region was seized in the first days of Russia’s invasion as it sent in troops from adjoining Crimea. It is one of four partly occupied Ukrainian regions that Russia proclaimed as its own last month in a move overwhelmingly condemned on Wednesday by the U.N. General Assembly.
However, since August it has been the scene of a major advance by Ukrainian forces.
In a video statement on Telegram, Vladimir Saldo publicly asked for government help in moving civilians to safer regions of Russia.
“Every day, the cities of Kherson region are subjected to missile attacks,” Saldo said.
“As such, the leadership of Kherson administration has decided to provide Kherson families with the option to travel to other regions of the Russian Federation to rest and study,” he said, adding that people should “leave with their children”.
He said the suggestion applied foremost to residents on the west bank of the Dnipro River – an area that includes the regional capital, Kherson.
“But at the same time, we suggested that all residents of the Kherson region, if there is such a desire, to protect themselves from the consequences of missile strikes, also go to other regions.”
The TASS news agency quoted the governor of Russia’s Rostov region, Vasily Golubev, as saying that a first group of people from Kherson would arrive there on Friday.
“The Rostov region will accept and accommodate everyone who wants to come to us from the Kherson region,” he said.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said those leaving Kherson would be provided with free accommodation and necessities – and, if they decided to remain outside Kherson permanently, with housing.
Russia’s incorporation of the four regions has been denounced by Kyiv and the West as an illegal annexation like that of Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014. At the U.N. General Assembly, 143 of 193 countries condemned it in Wednesday’s vote.
Ukrainian authorities say hundreds of thousands of Kherson’s residents have fled, mostly to unoccupied parts of Ukraine, including half the pre-war population of the regional capital.
Any major territorial losses in Kherson would restrict Russia’s access to the Crimean peninsula further south, whose return Kyiv has coveted since 2014.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Mark Trevelyan and Sandra Maler)