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Russia has ramped up its aggression in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson by blocking humanitarian corridors and capturing local officials, authorities reported Thursday.
Located just north of the Black Sea, Ukrainian officials warned last month that Russia will look to annex Kherson as it attempts to take “full control” over eastern and southern Ukraine.
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Dominance over these regions would not only create a land bridge to Russia from occupied Crimea but would grant it complete control over all Ukrainian port cities.
Russian forces have not only blocked humanitarian access to Kherson but are also barring anyone from leaving the occupied area.
“In recent days, they have blocked entry and exit from the region to Mykolayiv and other cities. This is a big problem,” the first deputy chairman of the Kherson Regional Council Yuriy Sobolevsky said in a translated post on Telegram. “We are not even talking about humanitarian corridors, we understand that they will not give them. They are interested in making us worse.”
Violence in the region has escalated in recent weeks and on Monday the mayor of the village of Chornobaivka was reportedly hospitalized after the town council was seized by Russian troops.
The town mayor is said to be in critical condition and in a hospital “supervised” by Russian troops, authorities said in a Facebook post Thursday.
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Town officials said the council was searched and questioned by armed Russian forces before the deputy mayor was then kidnapped.
His whereabouts remain unknown, and a Russian flag has been hung over the council building.
“We have evidence that the Kremlin may be preparing to stage sham referenda in Ukraine’s south and east,” Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said last week.
Carpenter said Russia will look to establish the “Kherson People’s Republic” and Moscow has already claimed to have “liberated” the region, requiring the Russian rubble be used there.
“Of course, this is pure fantasy and fabrication,” he said. “No such entity exists outside of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine.”
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Officials have warned Ukrainians against taking part in any such vote, but as Carpenter warned Russia will likely fabricate the vote either way.
“We saw this repeatedly in 2014, as the Kremlin orchestrated so-called referenda in the Ukrainian regions of Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk – each time with faked high percentages of public support,” he added. “The reality, of course, is that Russia installed puppet regimes who are dependent on Russian bribes, and orchestrated nebulous “people’s councils,” in quotes, to create phony constitutions.”