Russian soldiers are looting whatever they can in the Ukrainian city of Kherson, including the bones of Grigory Potemkin, the lover and friend of Catherine the Great, according to residents in the city, who also say the soldiers are forcing them out of their homes and apartments so they can occupy them themselves to stage battles against Ukraine.
Troops have taken cultural items including archives, paintings, and sculptures from local museums, and are stealing larger items like private cars, tractors and ambulances, reports The Guardian.
The stolen items are being taken across the Dnieper River, on the left bank of the Kherson region. As troops are deporting local citizens the city is now mostly empty and nobody can be sure how many of the pre-war population of about 300,000 people remain.
There was some speculation that Moscow was going to abandon the city after the Russian flag was removed from the state administration building, but residents are not convinced, with one woman saying that Russians are "dressing up as civilians and hiding in houses."
Ukraine officials also said they don't believe that Moscow would be leaving the city now, after occupying it since March, adding that Russian troops are creating defensive positions on the outskirts of the city while checkpoints in neighboring communities are being abandoned.
The officials further called the removal of the Russian flag an "informational ruse" to lure Ukraine's military into a trap.
"It’s difficult to understand what exactly is the Russian intention," Serhii Khlan, the deputy head of Kherson’s regional council commented.
Meanwhile, Russian authorities in the city are urging civilians to leave, reports The Associated Press.
Thursday, Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Kherson region's Russian administration, said Thursday that Russian forces might soon withdraw from the city. But on Friday, he said his statement was made to encourage evacuations.
According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Russia is faking a pullout from Kherson to lure in Ukraine's army for a battle. He called Russia's attempts to convince civilians to evacuate into Russian-controlled territory "theater."
A resident in Kherson further commented that Russian soldiers are going door to door and checking property deeds, forcing tenants to move out immediately if they can't prove the apartments' ownership so troops can occupy them.
"It is obvious that they are preparing for fighting the Ukrainian army in the city," he said.
Almost no food deliveries are coming to the city, and hospitals and clinics are no longer treating patients, reports from the city indicated.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov told the AP that the Ukrainian army has cut off the western bank of the Dnieper River by shelling main transportation routes and bridges to stop supplies of weapons and food from the Russians.
"The Russians understand the danger of transport routes being blocked and have practically put up with the fact that they will have to retreat from the right bank of the Dnieper," he said. "But the Russian troops are not prepared to leave Kherson peacefully and are preparing for battles within the city. They’re deploying the mobilized reservists there and new tactical battalion groups."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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