The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Kherson Ihor Kolykhaiev has said that the Ukrainian military is no longer in the city and that its inhabitants must now carry out the instructions of “armed people who came to the city’s administration” — indicating that the city has now fallen under Russian control.
The announcement on his Facebook page follows several days of pressure on Kherson by Russian forces who had surrounded the city.
Kherson is a strategically important city on an inlet from the Black Sea with a population of nearly 300,000. On Wednesday in Kyiv, the mayor had disputed Russian claims of control saying Ukrainian forces were still fighting in parts of the city. The new posting said Ukrainian forces had left.
The mayor also told the New York Times in an interview that a group of about 10 armed Russian officers, including the commander of forces attacking the city, entered the city hall building Wednesday. He said he was informed by the Russian officers that they were planning to set up a new administration similar to those in two Russian-backed separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine, according to the NY Times interview.
What this means: If Kherson is now under Russian control, it would be a significant moment in the conflict, as it would mark the first major city seized by Russian forces.
Late Wednesday, Hennady Lahuta, the head of Kherson regional administration, issued a message saying: “I ask everyone who is not at home now, or who is planning to go outside, not to do so. The occupiers are in all areas of the city and are very dangerous.”
Without saying explicitly that the Russians controlled the city, mayor Kolykhaiev said on Wednesday night that “there were armed visitors in the city executive committee today.”
“The team and I are peaceful people, we had no weapons, there was no aggression from our side.”
“I didn’t make any promises to them. I just have nothing to promise. I’m only interested in the normal life of our city! I just asked not to shoot people.”
In his Facebook message, he went on to say, “We do not have Armed Forces in the city, only civilians and people who want to LIVE here!”
Kolykhaiev said that there were now new rules in the city, which included a curfew and restrictions on transport in and out of the city.
He said that another rule was that “Pedestrians walk one by one, maximum two. Don’t provoke the military.”
He finished: “Let it be for now. The flag above us is Ukrainian. And in order to keep it the same, these requirements will have to be met. I can’t offer anything else.”