Residents of Kherson have boarded boats to flee Russia, where Russia claimed that Ukraine was planning a major attack. President Putin also declared martial law in the four occupied regions.
Russian media depicted people crossing the Dnipro River from the right bank to the left by boarding ferries.
Vladimir Saldo (Moscow-backed head for the south Kherson region), claimed that between 50,000 and 60,000 people would be evacuated in the next six days. He also claimed that Ukraine was planning a “large-scale offensive”.
He also prohibited civilians from entering the area for one week.
Ukraine called the evacuation scaremongering and propaganda stunt.
According to an unidentified screenshot shared on social media, Kherson residents received a text message informing them to evacuate as “shelling of residential block by the Ukrainian Armed Forces is expected”.
Kirill Stremousov (deputy head of the local government) also made a video appeal.
He said, “I ask that you take my words seriously” and interpret them as an urgent call to evacuate as quickly as possible.
“We don’t plan to surrender the city. We will stand until the end.”
The Russian forces have been forced back approximately 13 to 20 miles (20-30km), in the past few weeks. They risk being pinned against the Dnipro river.
Andriy Yarmak, the head of Ukraine’s president’s office posted on Telegram that “Russians are trying to scare people of Kherson by sending fake newsletters about the bombardment of the city by our military, and then arranging a propaganda show with evacuation.”
The recent counterattacks by Ukraine have retaken significant territory in the east and south. General Sergei Surovikin (Russian commander in Ukraine) has described the situation in Kherson as “tense” but “difficult”.
The news blackout in the southern Ukraine has sparked speculation about a major counterattack. Professor Michael Clarke, Sky News analyst, said it meant that “something big” was happening.
Many people from Kherson, once home to a population of around 280,000, have fled to other parts of Ukraine and abroad.
Kherson is one region Russia that claims it as its own after holding referendums which were condemned by the West as a sham.
On Wednesday, President Putin declared martial law in these regions. This includes Donetsk (Luhansk) and Zaporizhzhia (Zaporizhzhia).
Martial law is when the military takes control of an area instead of a civilian government. Normal laws are also suspended. However, this definition is not always clear.
Russian-installed heads in the four regions were also granted extra emergency powers. Again, the details were not revealed. President Putin ordered the creation territorial defense forces.
The president summoned 300,000 military reserveists a month ago. This caused long lines at the borders as people tried not to be drafted.
Although there were fears that Putin might close Russia’s borders to prevent fighting-age men leaving, he resisted the temptation during Wednesday’s meeting of his security council.