Russia Ukraine War Kherson Occupation

Russian army soldiers stand next to their trucks during a rally against Russian occupation in Svobody Square in Kherson, Ukraine, on March 7. 

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An explosive device detonated near the main communications tower in the occupied south Ukrainian city of Kherson, as a Moscow-loyal official said the Dnipro River industrial center will remain under Moscow’s control for all time and will start using the Russian ruble by May.

The 3 a.m. morning blast badly damaged the Kherson region television tower, knocked Russian Federation  programming off the air and caused no injuries or damage to civilian property, a pro-Ukraine Kherson regional defense statement said. Pro-Ukrainian social media purportedly posting from within Kherson showed images of a massive flash and cloud of smoke in the tower’s midsection, and television screens tuned to Russia One television with “signal interrupted” messages. The reports credited the attack to Kyiv-loyal partisans operating inside Kherson.

A statement by the pro-Russia Kherson occupying authority said transmissions of Russian state TV news and entertainment programs were restored immediately. The statement blamed a pair of Ukrainian Tochka-U surface-to-surface missiles, a weapon carrying a half-ton of explosives, for the attack. The Russian-controlled Readovka news feed claimed at least one of the missiles was shot down. Video purportedly uploaded from the scene showed a leveled home, a deep crater and an office building with smashed windows, but no devastating damage typical of Tochka-U missile strikes.

With a strong pre-war economy and a population of some 280,000, Kherson is the largest Ukrainian city fully occupied by Kremlin forces after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. It has been a center of Ukrainian civilian resistance, with citizens turning out regularly to protest Russian occupation, most recently on Wednesday. Russian authorities have used police state tactics, arrests of suspected supporters of the Ukrainian government, home invasions and riot police armed with clubs and tear gas in an attempt to control public resistance to Russian rule. At least two Kherson officials known to be collaborating with Russian authorities have died in gangland-style assassinations since Russian forces took over the city.

Aleksei Zhuravka, a Kherson politician formerly elected to Ukraine’s parliament and cooperating with Russian authorities, in comments Wednesday to the Russian state-controlled news agency RIA Novosti said Kyiv will never re-establish control over the city, saying in part, “I beg you, Khersonites, to calm down, no Ukrainian government will ever return here.”

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Kirill Stremousov, vice commander of the Russian-loyal Kherson occupying authority, in comments Wednesday repeated by pro-Russian media, said that the ruble will become legal tender in Kherson on May 1, and that Ukraine’s currency — the hryvnia — will be phased out of use in Kherson, within four months.

Stremousov’s and Zhuravka’s defiant remarks came against the backdrop not only of yet another possible Ukrainian partisan attack inside Kherson, but news of advancing Ukraine Armed Forces units reaching as close as the city’s western suburbs.

According to a 6 a.m. update made public by Ukraine’s Army General Staff, UAF units on Wednesday defeated Russian units in the towns Oleksandrivka and Nova Zorya, to the west of Kherson, allowing Ukrainian units to approach to artillery range of the city.

Russian state-controlled media appeared to partially confirm this with claims that, aside from the purported Tochka-U missiles, the UAF on Wednesday fired shorter-range Smerch artillery rockets at the Kherson TV tower, and at civilian targets inside Kherson city.