Russian President Vladimir Putin declared martial law in the annexed territories of Ukraine on Wednesday amid widespread expectations of a Ukrainian onslaught.
Effective Thursday, the ruling requires Moscow’s puppet authorities in the regions of Kherson, Zaporihzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk to establish territorial defense forces, the Associated Press reported.
Draft legislation suggests the policy will severely restrict the movements of civilians in the regions, while Russian-installed officials called for mass evacuations in the Kherson region as Ukraine’s military shows signs of gearing up for a renewed offensive, according to Reuters.
“We are working to solve very difficult large-scale tasks to ensure Russia’s security and safe future, to protect our people,” Putin said at the opening of a televised Security Council meeting, according to the AP.
“Those who are on the frontlines or undergoing training at firing ranges and training centers should feel our support and know that they have our big, great country and unified people behind their back,” he added.
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Russian officials denied expecting an imminent surrender of the city of Kherson, which bears the same name as the annexed region, with the city’s Russian-appointed governor Vladimir Saldo still advising residents to leave the city, Reuters reported. Approximately 60,000 to 70,000 people may evacuate over the coming week.
“We expect an attack, and the Ukrainian side doesn’t hide that,” Saldo said, according to Reuters.
Russia proclaimed unilateral control of the four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine in September despite its military lacking full control of the territory.
While the UN Secretary General and General Assembly condemned the annexation as illegal, the Kremlin has said any attack on the newly-acquired territory would be considered an attack on Russia itself and be met with a commensurate response, including nuclear weapons use.
Russian forces have beat a steady retreat of between 15 and 20 miles in the Kherson region as Ukraine’s army slogs forward after announcing the offensive in August.
“The situation in this area is difficult. The enemy is deliberately striking infrastructure and residential buildings,” General Sergei Surovikin said of Kherson, according to Reuters.
“The AFU [Armed Forces of Ukraine] do not shell cities,” the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said in response, the BBC reported, adding that Russia was using a “primitive” intimidation tactic to turn Kherson residents against Ukraine.
Putin also authorized establishment of a Coordination Committee to facilitate cooperation between government agencies involved in prosecuting the war, the AP reported.