This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Moscow-installed administrators in the Ukrainian region of Kherson have announced the formation of a local militia, saying that all men remaining in the city, which is currently under evacuation orders, could join if they are not leaving after Russia launched another wave of missile and drone attacks on the nearby city of Mykolayiv.
In a notice on the Telegram social media application on October 24, the occupation authorities said men had the “opportunity” to join Kherson city’s territorial defense units if they chose to remain.
The Russia-imposed administrators have been urging residents of the area for several days to leave Kherson, one of four Ukrainian regions Russia said it had annexed last month despite significant military gains by Ukrainian forces in the area over recent weeks.
The call for men to join the units appears to differ from other Ukrainian regions controlled by Russian forces, where men had been compelled to join up and fight — and which some legal analysts say is a breach of the Geneva Conventions on conduct in war. The call came on the heels of attacks on Mykolayiv, including a strike that destroyed the top floor of a residential apartment block.
“After the first blast, I tried to get out, but the door was stuck,” said Oleksandr Mezinov, 50. “After a minute or two, there was a second loud blast. Our door was blown into the corridor.”
The civilians are being relocated — Ukrainian officials have called the moves “deportations” — deeper into Russian-held territory before an expected battle for Kherson, the regional capital on the west bank of the Dnieper River.
Kherson is a gateway to Ukraine’s Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
About 25,000 people have left the region since October 18, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.