Ukraine’s military says Russia is massing troops on the right bank of the Dnieper as both sides appear poised for what could be a key battle for Kherson in southern Ukraine, while Russian officials say all civilians were evacuated from the city.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on October 28 that Moscow sent up to 1,000 newly mobilized troops to compensate for personnel losses suffered at the hands of an ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Kherson region.
“The command of the Russian occupation forces, in order to avoid panic among the personnel, is trying in every way to hide the real losses of servicemen… There is a reinforcement of the enemy group on the right bank of the area temporarily occupied territory of the Kherson region with mobilized military personnel numbering up to 1,000 people,” the General Staff said in a statement.
Ukraine launched an offensive to reclaim the Kherson region and its capital of the same name, which Russian forces captured in the early days of the war.
Ukrainian forces surrounded Kherson from the west and attacked the Russian position on the right bank of the Dnieper.
However, rugged terrain and bad weather hampered the Ukrainian army’s main advance into Kherson, officials said.
Kherson, one of four partially occupied provinces which Russia claimed to have captured last month, controls the only land route to the Crimean peninsula which Russia illegally annexed in 2014 and the mouth of the Dnieper River which intersects the ‘Ukraine.
Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed governor of Crimea, said on October 28 that President Vladimir Putin’s first deputy chief of staff, Sergei Kiriyenko, had visited Kherson.
Kiriyenko, one of the Kremlin’s most powerful officials, visited the ferry port that evacuates people from the right bank of the Dnieper ahead of the expected Ukrainian offensive, Aksyonov said.
“The work of organizing the departure of the inhabitants is finished,” he said.
Aksyonov’s statement came a day after Russian-appointed officials in Kherson said more than 70,000 people had left the city, including members of the Moscow-based regional administration.
The Ukrainian army said on October 28 that forces had killed 44 Russian soldiers in the past 24 hours, adding that its forces had destroyed an ammunition depot and a hangar with equipment.
The claim could not be independently verified.
However, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said 23 of his soldiers were killed and 58 others injured in a Ukrainian artillery attack this week in Kherson. The comments were unusual as pro-Moscow forces rarely admitted major battlefield casualties.
WATCH: A local official told Russian conscripts ‘You are not cannon fodder’ in a video posted online recently. The men responded by shouting angrily that, in fact, that is exactly what they are. The incident, in the Ardatovsky district some 360 kilometers east of Moscow, followed a stream of videos in which Russian conscripts complain about old equipment and poor training.
In the eastern region of Donetsk, Russian shelling killed four local residents, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, the region’s military administration chief, on October 28.
Russian airstrikes, drone attacks and shelling of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure have forced power outages in the capital, Kyiv, and other places, officials said.
Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said in an October 28 briefing that Ukraine had shot down more than 300 Iranian Shahed-136 “kamikaze” drones so far. Drones have become a key weapon in Russia’s attacks on crucial Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
Iran has denied Ukrainian and Western accusations that it is supplying drones to Russia.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainians will not be intimidated by such tactics.
“The bombings will not break us – hearing the enemy’s anthem on our land is more frightening than the enemy’s rockets in our sky,” Zelenskiy said in his usual video address on October 27 as he stood outside in the dark next to the wreckage of a downed drone.
WATCH: Ukrainian troops target Russian-launched drones, fighter jets and helicopters, using Soviet-era anti-aircraft systems with limited radar capabilities. They also use shoulder-launched missiles supplied by the West like the Stinger, but factors such as weather can have a major impact on their effectiveness.
Meanwhile, US officials quoted by Reuters and The Associated Press said the United States was preparing a new $275 million military assistance package for Ukraine to bolster its counteroffensive against Russian forces.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were no major new weapons in the US package, which is expected to be announced as early as October 28.
Instead, US aid is largely aimed at resupplying thousands of rounds of ammunition for weapon systems already there, including for high-mobility artillery rocket systems, known as HIMARS. , which Ukraine successfully used in its counter-offensive against Russia.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby declined to confirm details of the package in a CNN interview, saying only that a new round of weapons for Ukraine would be announced “very, very soon”.