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Russian officials said on Thursday that occupying forces in Ukraine would soon seek to annex Kherson as intense fighting continues in the southern region.
Krill Stremousov, a Ukrainian national wanted for treason by Kyiv who is also the deputy head of Russian separatist forces in Kherson, took to Telegram to say: “We are preparing for the referendum, we will hold it”.
“I hope that in the near future we will already become a full-fledged territorial entity of the Russian Federation,” he added according to Russian media.
KHERSON CUT OFF: UKRAINIAN COUNTEROFFENSIVE GAINS MOMENTUM IN SOUTH OF CITY
Stremousov has claimed for months that Russian forces in the southern region are preparing to hold a referendum to “vote” on annexing Kherson to Russia.
However, his renewed demands come as defense officials defend advances by Ukraine’s armed forces in the Russian-occupied region since early March.
A key bridge was closed this week after Ukrainian forces used US-supplied HIMARS to target the strategically important thoroughfare that Russian forces in Kherson relied on to access occupied areas north of Crimea .
Damaging the Antonovsky Bridge, which crosses the Dnieper, is a major victory for Ukrainian forces as they seek to block Russian transport and logistics routes to Kherson.
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Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Thursday that Ukrainian forces were “gathering momentum” in Kherson and said it was “highly likely” they had established a “bridgehead” south of the Ingulets River – a tributary of the Dnieper.
“Which forms the northern border of Russian-occupied Kherson,” the ministry stressed.
The ministry estimated that Ukrainian forces damaged at least three bridges over the Dnieper; bridges that Russian soldiers relied on.
“The city of Kherson, the most politically important population center occupied by Russia, is now virtually cut off from other occupied territories,” the British Ministry of Defense added. “His loss would seriously undermine Russia’s attempts to portray the occupation as a success.”
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Stremousov denied Western claims that Ukraine had made progress in the southern region.
Kherson regional authorities said on Thursday that Russian forces had banned the use of Ukrainian currency and that people using the hryvnia would be “punished”.
Intense fighting continues throughout the Kherson region as Ukrainian forces seek to retake their territory from Russian occupation.