Russia said Friday (Oct 28) that 300,000 reservists have been called up, with Moscow fighting to turn the tide after defeats in Ukraine have left the key southern city of Kherson in Kyiv’s sights.
The announcement of the draft’s completion came as Moscow’s proxies said they had finished a pull-out of civilians from Kherson, which Ukrainian forces were pushing to recapture as winter closes in.
The city, which had a population of around 288,000 people before the fighting, was one of the first to fall to Moscow’s troops in the early days of the February offensive and retaking it would mark a major milestone for Kyiv.
Faced with military losses, President Vladimir Putin announced a military call-up of reservists in September, seeking to mobilise 300,000 people amid fighting in Ukraine.
Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin on Friday in a televised meeting that the call-up – which saw Russian men dashing for the borders to avoid the fighting – had hit its target.
According to Shoigu, 82,000 recruits were already in Ukraine with 41,000 of them deployed to military units.
After making major gains in Ukraine’s east and south, Kyiv’s forces were preparing for a fierce battle to retake the main city in the southern Kherson region.
KHERSON “EVACUATION” COMPLETE
Since mid-October the occupation authorities have urged Kherson residents to cross to the left bank of the Dnipro River, deeper into Moscow-controlled territory and closer to regions of southern Russia.
By Friday, the movement of residents – which Kyiv has compared to Soviet-like “deportations” – was complete.
“The work to organise residents leaving to the left bank of the Dnipro (river) to safe regions of Russia is completed,” Sergei Aksyonov, the Moscow-appointed head of Crimea, a peninsula Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, said on social media late on Thursday.
“The crossing (of the Dnipro) is empty!” Aksyonov said after he visited the region with the Kremlin’s domestic chief Sergei Kiriyenko.
He posted photos of himself and other officials, including Kiriyenko, on a riverbank.
A Russian-installed official in Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, has said that at least 70,000 people have left their homes in the region in the space of a week.
Kyiv’s army, meanwhile, said Friday Moscow’s “so-called evacuation” is continuing.
It claimed that the Russian command in Kherson was trying to “hide the real losses of servicemen” in order to “avoid panic”.
In a sign of Moscow suffering heavy losses, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said late on Thursday that 23 of his fighters were killed in battles around Kherson this week with dozens more wounded.
“At the beginning of this week, one of the Chechen units was shelled in the Kherson region,” Kadyrov, who has sent his militia to fight alongside the Kremlin’s forces, said on Telegram.
The Kremlin ally rarely reveals defeats but admitted that losses were “big on that day”.
IAEA TO PROBE “DIRTY BOMB” CLAIMS
Russian forces have for weeks pummelled Ukraine with air strikes especially targeting energy infrastructure, destroying at least a third of the country’s power facilities ahead of winter.
On Friday, a group of Iranians living in Ukraine held a rally in central Kyiv against the alleged use of Iranian-made drones by Russian forces to carry out the strikes.
“The country where we were born and the regime currently in power sends drones to kill us and our friends,” 34-year-old Iranian architect Maziar Mian told AFP.
Iran has rejected these claims and Moscow accused the West of using these accusations to put “pressure” on Tehran.
Aksyonov also said that he and Kiriyenko visited the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – Europe’s largest atomic facility — further north on the Dnipro River in Russian-occupied territory.
Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the plant, sparking fears of a nuclear disaster.
Ukraine has accused Moscow’s forces of “kidnapping” the plant’s staff and said last week that around 50 employees are held in “captivity”.
Putin on Thursday called on the UN’s atomic agency to inspect Ukraine’s nuclear site “as soon as possible” over Moscow’s allegations that Kyiv is preparing a “dirty bomb” attack.
A dirty bomb is a conventional bomb laced with radioactive, biological or chemical materials which are dispersed in an explosion.
Kyiv has dismissed these claims as “dangerous” lies and suspects Russia might itself use a dirty bomb in a “false flag” attack.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Thursday it will conduct an “independent verification” of Russian allegations concerning the production of so-called dirty bombs at two sites in Ukraine.