Saturday, Russian-installed authorities in Ukraine ordered all residents of the city of Kherson to leave "immediately" in anticipation of an expected advance by Ukrainian troops waging a counteroffensive to recapture one of the first urban areas Russia captured after invading Ukraine.
In a post on the Telegram messaging service, the pro-Kremlin regional administration urged civilians to use river crossings to move deeper into Russian-held territory, citing a tense frontline situation and the threat of shelling and "terror attacks" by Kyiv.
Kherson has been under Russian control since the beginning of Ukraine's nearly eight-month civil war. The city is the capital of the same-named region, one of four illegally annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin last month and placed under martial law on Thursday.
On Friday, Ukrainian forces bombarded Russian positions throughout the province, focusing on pro-Kremlin forces' resupply routes across the Dnieper River and inching closer to a full assault on Kherson city. Since launching its counteroffensive in late August, Ukraine has recaptured several northern villages.
Reportedly, Russian-installed officials were desperately attempting to fortify Kherson city, a top priority for both sides due to its vital industries and ports, while relocating tens of thousands of residents.
According to the Ukrainian army's general staff, the Kremlin dispatched as many as 2,000 draftees to the region to replace losses and reinforce front-line units.
The Dnieper River plays a prominent role in the regional conflict due to its multiple vital functions. It provides crossings for supplies, troops, and civilians, drinking water for southern Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, and hydroelectric power generation.
A large portion of the region, including the power plant and a canal that supplies water to Crimea, is under Russian control.
Kherson's Kremlin-backed authorities had announced plans to evacuate all Russia-appointed officials and up to 60,000 civilians across the river in what local leader Volodymyr Saldo termed an "organized, gradual displacement."
Saturday, another Russia-installed official estimated that approximately 25,000 people across the region had crossed the Dnieper. Kirill Stremousov claimed in a Telegram message that civilians were voluntarily relocating.
"People are actively moving today because life is the priority. We do not force anyone to do anything," he stated.
Ukrainian and Western officials have expressed concern regarding the possibility of forcible transfers of residents to Russia or Russian-occupied territory.
Officials from Ukraine have urged residents of Kherson to resist attempts to relocate them, with one local official alleging that Moscow intended to kidnap and use civilians as human shields.