Ukraine on Monday warned residents in occupied Crimea to start preparing bomb shelters and supplies as Kyiv’s counter-offensive to reclaim southern Ukraine gathers pace.
The warning came as Moscow admitted it had been forced to pause preparations for a sham referendum to formally join Russia due to security concerns.
In a sign the assault has made progress, one of Volodymyr Zelensky’s top aides said the illegally annexed peninsula should prepare for “de-occupation”.
Ukrainian forces last week launched a major counter-offensive, its first since the beginning of the war, to take back control of Russian-held territory in the region.
Despite the attack said to be focused on southern Ukraine, Kyiv on Monday warned residents in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, to brace for the potential of fierce fighting.
We ask residents of occupied territories, including the Crimean peninsula, to follow [Ukrainian] officials’ recommendations during de-occupation measures,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior aide to the Ukrainian president, wrote on Twitter.
“In particular, to prepare a bomb shelter, stock up with sufficient amounts of water and charge power banks. Everything will be in Ukraine.”
Russian military bases on the Black Sea peninsula were rocked by devastating explosions in the build-up to the counter-offensive, but Ukrainian officials refused to publicly take credit for the attacks.
Crimea, a strategically vital stronghold for Russia and home to its Black Sea naval fleet, was always thought to be out for Ukraine’s arsenal of precision weapons.
But as Ukrainian forces move closer to the southern city of Kherson, more targets will fall into range of US-provided Himars and other Western long-range rocket launchers
A few hours later, he posted a video denying that Russian-installed authorities had paused efforts for a long-planned referendum to bring the region under Kremlin control.
Ukrainian forces advance
While Ukraine has remained largely silent on operations in the south, Western analysts said Kyiv had been able to increase its bridgehead over the Inhulets River near Kherson.
Russian airstrikes on Sukhy Stavok, Bezimenne and Kostromka around the secured grounds “may indicate that Ukrainian forces have advanced up to 12km south east of the bridgehead”, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a US-based think-tank.
After Ukrainian forces liberated Vysokopillya, there were reports that Russian attacks on the settlements of Olhyne, Potomkyne, Doryanka, and Novovoznesenske nearby, suggesting Moscow’s forces had left the area.
Pro-Russian sources said Ukraine’s offensive was being carried out in at least five directions east and west of Vysokopillya, near the Ukrainian bridgehead, near Snihurivka some 37 miles east of Mykolaiv, and north west and west of Kherson.
“Ukrainian forces have made substantial enough progress to begin evoking more realistic commentary from the Russian milbloggers, who had been hewing very closely to the Kremlin’s optimistic rhetoric until today,” ISW added