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Russian Commander In Kherson Bars Ukrainians From Fleeing To Pro-Kyiv Regions.

An aerial view of the Ukrainian city of Kherson on May 20.

An aerial view of the Ukrainian city of Kherson on May 20.

Residents of a southern region of Ukraine captured by Russian troops have confirmed Russian reports that the military commander put in charge of the area has banned Ukrainians from departing for regions controlled by Ukraine.

The residents of Kherson, who spoke to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, did not wish to be identified for safety reasons.

They said civilians were only being allowed to flee to Russian-occupied Crimea or the part of the Zaporizhzhya region controlled by Russian troops.

An earlier RIA Novosti report attributed the ban to Kirill Stremousov, the Russian military's appointed overseer in the area.

Stremousov said the decision to ban travel to the nearby Mykolayiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions was based on danger due to constant shelling, which he blamed on Ukrainian forces, although there was no way to confirm that accusation.

Parts of Kherson, which lies on the Dnieper River and the Black Sea, have been under Russian control since early in the full-scale invasion that began on February 24.

For months, Russian occupation forces have conducted interviews and other filtration measures to assess fleeing civilians' loyalties, and tens of thousands of Ukrainians are thought to have been forced to flee to Russia or Russia-controlled areas.

Kyiv and international observers have described the forced departures as among the growing list of war crimes being committed by Russian forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said after launching the all-out invasion aimed at demilitarizing and subduing the much smaller post-Soviet neighbor that his goal is not to occupy Ukrainian territory.

But Moscow-controlled administrations have been formed with ostensible leaders in Kherson and other regions arguing that their areas should be accepted into Russia.

On May 25, Putin signed a decree to simplify the conferral of Russian citizenship on residents of the Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions of Ukraine.

Mykhaylo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, countered that Putin's decree was legally invalid and intended to contribute to domestic propaganda in the conflict.

On May 14, the British Defense Ministry warned that the civilian administration which Russian occupiers put in charge of the Kherson region was likely to ask Moscow to include it into the Russian Federation.

The British Defense Ministry warned that any purported referendum carried out by the region's pro-Moscow authorities would almost certainly be manipulated to show a clear majority wanting to leave Ukraine.

With additional reporting by dpa

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