LONDON (Reuters) – The new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine acknowledged on Tuesday that his forces were under wide pressure and faced difficult choices as the Russian-appointed governor of Kherson province announced a partial evacuation.
“The situation in the ‘special military operation’ zone can be described as tense,” Sergei Surovkin, an air force general appointed this month to command Russia’s invasion forces, told state-owned Rossiya 24 television.
“The enemy is constantly trying to attack the positions of the Russian forces,” he said. “First of all, this concerns the Kobyansk, Lyman and Mykolaiv Kryvyi Rih sectors.”
Kupiansk and Lyman are in eastern Ukraine, while the area between Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih is primarily the northern part of Kherson Province in southern Ukraine.
Russian forces at Kherson have retreated 20-30 kilometers (13-20 miles) in the past few weeks and are in danger of closing off on the right or western bank of the Dnipro River.
Shortly after Surovkin’s comments were broadcast, the Russian-appointed governor of the Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, announced the “orderly and gradual displacement” of civilians from four towns on the Right Bank.
In a video statement, Saldo accused the Ukrainian forces, without citing evidence, of planning to destroy a major dam at the Nova Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant.
“The Ukrainian side is mobilizing its forces to launch a large-scale attack,” 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 series of power plants upstream of the Dnipro River.”
Sorovikin seems to admit that there is now a danger of Ukrainian forces advancing towards Kherson, which lies near the mouth of the Dnipro River on the west bank, and makes it difficult for Russia to resupply from the east because the main bridge across Dnipro has been badly damaged by Ukrainian bombardment.
Russia captured Kherson largely unopposed in the early days of the invasion, and it remains the only major Ukrainian city captured by Russian forces.
“Our further plans and actions in relation to Kherson itself will depend on the emerging military-tactical situation. I repeat – it is already very difficult today,” Sorovikin said.
“We will act consciously, and in a timely manner, without ruling out difficult decisions.”
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Levy, David Leungren and Gareth Jones)
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