Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered this Wednesday the establishment of martial law in the four Ukrainian territories of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia, annexed in September.
Putin announced the move at a meeting of his Security Council, broadcast on television. The Kremlin then published a decree confirming the entry into force of martial law in those territories as of Thursday.
“I have signed a decree to introduce martial law in these four subjects of the Russian Federation,” annexed by Moscow after referendums held in late September and condemned by the international community, Putin said at the National Security Council meeting.
The Russian president made his announcement in full advance of the Ukrainian forces in territory controlled by Moscow for months.
“The kyiv regime has refused to recognize the will of the people, it rejects any negotiation proposal, the shooting continues, and civilians are dying,” the 70-year-old Russian leader said.
The president also accused Ukraine of resorting to “terrorist methods.” “They are sending groups of saboteurs into our territory,” he said.
According to him, Moscow has thwarted other attacks after the one on the Crimean bridge, “including against our nuclear energy facilities.”
The Russian martial law allows to reinforce the army, apply curfews, limit movements, impose military censorship in telecommunications, prohibit public gatherings and lock up foreign citizens, among other measures.
According to the decree, the Russian government will have to propose concrete measures to be applied in those territories within three days.
The decree also provides for a reinforcement of security in other Russian territories, and places the Crimean peninsula, annexed in 2014, as well as the southern regions of Krasnodar, Belgorod, Briansk, Voronezh, Kursk and Rostov, all of them near the Ukraine.
In the central federal district, where Moscow is located, a “reinforced alert” regime is also established, according to the decree.
This regime allows the evacuation of residents to “safe areas”, the introduction of controls at the entrances and exits of said regions, and a reinforcement of the security of the infrastructures.
The Russian-installed chief of the Kherson region, Stremousov’s superior, said some 50,000-60,000 people would be evacuated in the next six days. The city had a prewar population of about 280,000 people, but many of them have since fled.
“The Ukrainian side is building up forces for a large-scale offensive,” official Vladimir Saldo told state television. “Where the military operates, there is no place for civilians.”
Saldo, who said Russia has the resources to hold Kherson and even strike back if necessary, also announced a seven-day ban on civilians entering the region.
Images of people fleeing Kherson were broadcast on Russian state television, which described the exodus — from the right bank of the Dnieper River to its left bank — as an attempt to cleanse the city of civilians before it becomes a combat zone. .
Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-backed local administration, made a video appeal after Russian forces in the area fell back 20-30 kilometers in recent weeks. They risk being trapped on the western bank of the 2,200-kilometer-long Dnieper River, which bisects Ukraine.
Andriy Yermak, the head of the office of the Ukrainian president, accused Russia of putting on a propaganda show in Kherson.
“The Russians are trying to scare the Kherson residents with false bulletins about the bombing of the city by our army and also organize a propaganda show with the evacuation,” Yermak wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Eight months after being invaded, Ukraine is carrying out major counter-offensives in the east and south to try to take as much territory as it can before winter, having defeated Russian forces in some areas.
Kherson is the largest population center taken over and held by Moscow since it began its “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24. The city sits on territory that Putin says is formally incorporated into Russia, something Ukraine and the West do not recognize.
Ukrainian cities have also come under attack in recent days by drones and missiles, and Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of kyiv, said the capital’s air defenses were in action once again on Wednesday.
In Kherson, Stremousov said the city, and especially its right bank, could be shelled by Ukrainian forces, adding that residents who leave would be given lodging inside Russia.
“I ask you to take my words seriously and understand them as: the fastest possible evacuation,” he said. “We do not intend to surrender the city, we will resist until the last moment.”
With information from AFP and Reuters