Kyiv, Ukraine – For several days, the Kremlin has been calling for the evacuation of civilians from the main part of the region in the south of Ukraine.
The Belgian-sized province of Kherson, which served as the gateway to the annexed Crimean peninsula, was captured days after the invasion began.
Bisected by the mighty Dnieper River, Kherson became the first Ukrainian province to be fully occupied by Russia, and Moscow deployed tens of thousands of troops there.
Russia’s control of part of the west bank of the Dnieper is particularly important, as it will allow it to advance north and west.
But in recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have retaken dozens of villages and towns on the west bank, striking bridges across the Dnieper, ferries and pontoons, and depots with operational precision.
Thus, for the past 10 days, Moscow and its puppet “administration” in Kherson have been urging tens of thousands of citizens living on the west coast to leave for Crimea and mainland Russia.
They said that about 70,000 citizens were voluntarily evacuated and that they would be given “certificates” to get free housing anywhere in Russia.
The “leader” of Crimea, Serhiy Aksenov, said on Thursday evening that “I am glad that all those who wanted to leave the areas where the Ukrainian army fired quickly and safely did so.”
Meanwhile, pro-Kremlin media reported that heavy bronze statues of two 18th-century Russian commanders were taken away as they drove out Russian troops.
The official reason for Moscow’s withdrawal is the allegation that Ukraine plans to bomb the Nova Kahivka dam to flood the region; Kyiv denies these accusations.
According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the evacuation of civilians and monuments is nothing more than a trap created by the Kremlin to create the illusion of panic.
“Their best-trained troops are in place. No one left. We see it and we don’t believe them,” he told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Thursday.
A Ukrainian military officer who spent several months in the southern part of the front said that the noise in the Russian media was too premeditated and untrue.
“We were not exposed to it because it was very deliberate and designed to create a media frenzy, a certain mood,” the military official told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.
There is no hope of a miraculous Russian retreat from such a strategic region, and senior Ukrainian officials must focus on improving living conditions on the front line of Kherson, in the bare, windswept fields with no shelter from the weather or Russian fire. he said.
“More needs to be invested to retain the existing workforce,” he said.
Intelligence data and satellite images show that in recent days the Russians have been building fortifications and defensive lines in Kherson, the regional capital, and in Nova Kakhovka, near the HPP and HPP.
“Evacuation of civilians [Dnieper’s] The right bank and the left bank are all preparations and propaganda tricks,” Igor Romanenko, former deputy chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, told Al Jazeera.
“In fact, they are strengthening their groups there, with manpower. More than that,” he said.
The group is preparing for a possible counterattack, he said.
In the early days of the invasion, Moscow hoped its blitzkrieg would topple Zelenskyi’s government. But after weeks of fierce resistance and failure, he pulled his forces out of northern Ukraine and around Kiev.
Moscow has been advancing east and south to seize Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, hoping to break through to the breakaway pro-Moscow region of Transnistria in neighboring Moldova, where Russian “peacekeepers” have been stationed for years.
These hopes were also dashed as Ukraine liberated most of the Kharkiv region in the east, dealt heavy blows to Russian forces in Luhansk and Donetsk, and began retaking parts of Kherson.
Heavy rain and muddy roads in recent days were another factor slowing down Ukraine’s progress, Romanenko said.
However, small groups of Ukrainian soldiers are constantly pounding the Russians, destroying command centers, warehouses and shipping routes, and preventing the supply of manpower, he said.
The timing of the decisive breakthrough has yet to be determined.
“We need to identify the weak points of the enemy, we need to gather reserves, increase our capabilities, and only then make the final decisions to take more actions,” he said.
Pro-Moscow figures argue that Russia’s decision to mobilize 300,000 troops and destroy key Ukrainian infrastructure with cruise missiles, rockets and drones means Kiev has no choice but to rush forward in Kherson.
“[Ukraine] he is forced to hurry with an advance while his rear structures are working,” Igor Strelkov, the former “defense minister” of separatist Donetsk, who recently returned to the front, wrote on the Telegram page on Sunday.
Another analyst said Ukraine’s stalled progress reflected its labor shortage and an increasingly cautious strategy of promoting small groups.
Nikolai Mitrokhin, a Russia researcher at Germany’s University of Bremen, told Al Jazeera: “He can only move forward once serious breaches in Russia’s defenses have been identified.”
According to Russian reports, the Ukrainian army is suffering heavy losses almost every day, but it is looking for new “holes”.
“Such holes are created by effective artillery fire or drone activity, so there is room for further progress,” he said.
However, Russia is immediately filling the gaps with thousands of newly mobilized troops, who lack training and combat experience.
“Therefore, Ukraine hopes that the tactics of striking artillery, headquarters and destroying the enemy’s military forces with artillery or drones and artillery or aircraft that drop small bombs on the heads of soldiers will be gradually implemented,” Mitrokhin said.