The Kremlin invites residents of occupied Kherson to “holiday” in Russia

The Kremlin-backed administration of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Kherson region is offering residents “holidays” in Russia amid ongoing war and concerns over efforts to “russify” Ukrainians.

The Russian-recognized Kherson regional administration announced in a Telegram post last week that it had set up a hotline for “children and their parents and anyone who wants” to go on vacation. Located in southern Ukraine, Kherson has seen intense fighting as Ukrainian forces attempt to drive out the Russian military. The hotline was set up following reports of Russia forcibly evicting Ukrainians from occupied territories.

Volodymyr Saldo, the former mayor of Kherson whom the Kremlin installed as head of the occupied region, told Russia’s state news agency TASS on Friday that most residents would remain in place despite the possibility of the daily rocket fire to leave the region. He said only about 350 residents asked for help as they left.

Debris in the Kherson region
A wheelless car hijacked by Russian soldiers stands on bricks in front of the destroyed village council in Vysokopillia, Ukraine, September 27, 2022. Russian-backed authorities in the Kherson region are offering vacations to residents who want a break from the war.
Yurii Tynnyi/Getty Images

Saldo said in a Telegram post Thursday that he was arranging for residents to travel to Russia “for recreation and study” or “to protect themselves from the consequences of missile attacks.”

The post acknowledged that the region remained contested, although Russian President Vladimir Putin said in September that Kherson was one of four regions of Ukraine that voted to join Russia, a notion approved in a unilateral vote by the General Assembly was rejected by the United Nations.

Kirill Stremousov, Saldo’s deputy, previously downplayed Kherson residents leaving the region on Telegram, saying it would not amount to an evacuation. But on Friday, Stremousov struck a different tone, encouraging residents to remain calm and “take a humanitarian trip to rest and [recuperate] in the Russian Federation.”

“It’s no secret that the shelling of the Kherson region is particularly dangerous for civilians,” he said in Friday’s Post.

Since Putin launched Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, international observers and Ukrainian officials have reported that Ukrainian citizens apprehended in occupied territories have been forced to relocate to Russia, which the Kremlin denies.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a US-based think tank, has previously published research on the Kremlin’s efforts to strip Ukrainians of their cultural identity.

“Russian authorities continue to engage in ‘Russification’ social programs targeting Ukrainian children,” the think tank noted in its research on Friday.

The ISW cited reports from local media and Ukrainian officials that Russia was deporting children, some orphans, from occupied territories. The deportations were described by Russian officials as “children’s trips” and “advanced education” programs, the group’s research says. Youth in the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol are also being pressured into joining an anti-Ukrainian paramilitary group “Youth Guards,” the ISW added.

news week has asked the Ukrainian Ministry of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories for an opinion. The Kremlin invites residents of occupied Kherson to “holiday” in Russia

Rick Schindler

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