KYIV/MYKOLAIV, Ukraine (Reuters) -Russia told civilians on Tuesday to leave an area along the eastern bank of the Dnipro River in the Ukrainian province of Kherson, a major extension of an evacuation order that Kyiv says amounts to the forced depopulation of occupied territory.
Russia had previously ordered civilians out of a pocket it controls on the west bank of the river, where Ukrainian forces have been advancing for weeks to capture the city of Kherson in what would be a strategic prize in the eight-month-long war.
Russian-installed officials said on Tuesday they were extending that order to a 15-km (9-mile) buffer zone along the east bank too. Ukraine says the evacuations include forced deportations from occupied territory, a war crime.
Russia, which claims to have annexed parts of Kherson region, says it is taking civilians to safety because of the risk Ukraine might use unconventional weapons.
“Due to the possibility of the use of prohibited methods of war by the Ukrainian regime, as well as information that Kyiv is preparing a massive missile strike on the Kakhovka hydroelectric station, there is an immediate danger of the Kherson region being flooded,” Vladimir Saldo, Russian-installed head of occupied Kherson province, said in a video message.
“The decision (to expand the evacuation zone) will make it possible to create a layered defence in order to repel Ukrainian attacks and protect civilians,” he said.
Russian-installed authorities in the Kherson region al