MOSCOW: Russia pushed ahead on Friday with a civilian pullout from Ukraine’s Kherson region amid a mounting counter-offensive, with President Vladimir Putin saying residents must be “removed” from danger zones.
The Russian army said “more than 5,000 civilians” were being led across the Dnipro River every day, showing footage of soldiers directing lines of cars onto flotillas crossing over to the river’s eastern bank.
Moscow’s forces began urging civilians to leave Kherson in mid-October, vowing to turn the region’s main city of the same name into a fortress ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian offensive.
Kyiv has likened the departures to Soviet-style “deportations” of its people.
“Those who live in Kherson should be removed from zones of dangerous fighting,” Putin said on Red Square as he marked “Russian unity day”. “The civilian population should not suffer from shelling, an offensive, a counter-offensive or other such things,” he said.
Western countries have urged Putin to extend a landmark deal for the export of Ukrainian grain to avert a global food crisis, which is up for renewal on Nov 19.
Russia rejoined the UN-brokered deal on Wednesday, after suspending its participation for four days over a drone attack on its Black Sea fleet in Crimea, but has threatened to pull out again.
On a visit to China, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Putin to extend the deal.
“Hunger must not be used as a weapon,” he said.
“I urge the Russian president not to refuse to extend the grain agreement which ends in a few days.”
He asked China’s Xi Jinping _ who has good relations with Putin _ to use Beijing’s “influence” on Moscow to stop fighting in Ukraine.
“The Russian war in Ukraine is a dangerous situation for the whole world,” Scholz said.
The G7 group of wealthy nations also said it wants Russia to prolong the deal as it allows the safe passage of grain shipments from Ukraine.
Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2022