Russia soldier hints at retreat from Crimea as Ukraine bears down

Kyiv's defence chief reveals Ukraine 'can step in Crimea

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Russia is desperately evacuating women and children from northern regions of Crimea as Ukrainian forces push past Kherson in preparation for the next stage of combat, leaked audio from a Russian soldier has suggested. In footage released online, the soldier described the war effort in southern Ukraine as a “s***show”, adding that the evacuation of civilians in Crimea would be made evident on November 28. Russian officials in Crimea have denied the reports as fake, according to its state media. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces are attacking Russian positions to the west of Kherson, which could, in turn, afford them a safer route towards Crimea. 

The Russian soldier said: “From Armyansk, which is in Crimea, they are now evacuating women and children. 

“This is for you to understand the scale of the s***show that is happening now. I cannot go online very often, neither I nor my admins. 

“But we have a slightly tricky situation. So, I am asking you to forgive and understand me. 

The soldier, in a later video, claimed Russia has escorted four columns from Crimea, adding that “you will see on 28”, suggesting the extent of the evacuation will be evident on November 28.

Ukraine recently recaptured the city of Kherson, on the western bank of the Dnipro River 150 kilometres north of Crimea, as well as surrounding areas in a major battlefield advance.

Russian forces were pushed to retreat from the strategic port city, the only provincial capital they had captured since February 24, when they invaded. Reports last week then suggested they were further fortifying the land in between Kherson and Crimea, preparing for the next stages of combat, with several-miles-long trenches.  

The accounts of evacuations from areas in Crimea imply that Russia is preparing contingency plans should Ukraine’s forces breach those fortifications 

In another key battlefield development, a Ukrainian official acknowledged that Kyiv’s forces are attacking Russian positions on the Kinburn Spit, which is a gateway to the Black Sea basin and parts of the southern Kherson region that are still under Russian control.

Despite an information blackout around the operation, Natalya Humenyuk, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian army’s Operational Command South, said in televised remarks that Ukrainian forces are “continuing a military operation” in the area.

The Kinburn Spit is Russia’s last outpost in Ukraine’s southern Mykolayiv region, directly west of Kherson. Moscow has used the Kinburn Spit as a staging ground for missile and artillery strikes on Ukrainian positions in the Mykolaiv province, and elsewhere along the Ukrainian-controlled Black Sea coast.

Capturing the Kinburn Spit could help Ukrainian forces push into territory Russia still holds in the Kherson region “under significantly less Russian artillery fire” than an attempt at a direct crossing of the Dnipro would likely unleash, a Washington-based think tank said late on Monday.

The Institute for the Study of War added that control of the area would help Kyiv alleviate Russian strikes on Ukraine’s southern seaports and allow Ukraine to increase its naval activity in the Black Sea.

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But the Head of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, wrote on his Telegram channel on Tuesday that reports of evacuations from Armyansk are false, adding that “nothing is threatening Russia’s Crimea”. 

Aksyonov wrote: “This is false. There is no evacuation. All measures necessary to ensure the security of our peninsula are being taken. I strongly urge everyone to take guidance only from trusted sources of information.” 

He claimed “the enemy is doing everything to destabilise the situation on the peninsula”. 

He said: “I guarantee that on the instructions of [Russian] President [Vladimir Putin] I am working around the clock to ensure the guaranteed security of Crimea and Crimean residents. Nothing is threatening Russia’s Crimea as the subject of the Russian Federation. And all claims by our foes that they will be in Crimea – we will see who will be where in summer.” 

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