Ukraine: Russian Troops Continue Offensive from Crimea

Amid the chaos of invasion, locals struggle to communicate with regional and state authorities.

Oleg Baturin


Local officials in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson have described their shock and disbelief as Russian troops attacking from Crimea overwhelmed their defences. 

Early on the morning of February 24, Russian soldiers were deployed from occupied Crimea. In a matter of hours, they reached Nova Kakhovka, in the centre of the Kherson region, and nearby Oleshek. By mid-morning, the Russians had seized Nova Kakhovka’s Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station and captured the North Crimean Canal in the neighbouring city of Tavriysk.

Municipal officials complained about the lack of communication with the regional and state authorities. Tavriysk mayor Mykola Rizak said that he immediately informed the leadership of the Kherson regional state administration.

“I told them about the capture of the channel, but they did not believe it,” he said. “And I have a question: how could Russian tanks, Grads and armoured personnel carriers pass from Armyansk to Tavriysk in four hours? Where is our first echelon of defence [or] the second, about which the regional authorities told us many times and reassured us that everything will be fine? Where are they?”

There was heavy fighting in the area of ​​the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station - which was occupied by Russian forces - and on the outskirts of Kherson. Wounded Russian soldiers were taken to the Novokakhovskaya city hospital and there were also civilian casualties, including at least three people killed due to shelling in Oleshki. On February 24, on a highway near the village of Tsukury in the Tavrian region, a Russian armoured personnel carrier hit a car. The passenger died at the scene, and the driver remains in critical condition.

In the late afternoon of February 25, the head of the regional state administration Gennady Laguta announced the loss of control over the Antonovsky Bridge, the main crossing to Kherson across the Dnieper from the city of Oleshki.

“The enemy overcame the city’s defences with great force and heavy losses,” he posted on Facebook. “We urge you to remain calm and not panic. The regional leadership is making every effort to maintain law and order and save lives. The situation remains tense, but we promise to do everything possible to resolve it.”

Laguta said that the situation in the Kherson region remained tense.

“In the Genichesk region, all state structures came under the control of the invaders,” he said. “Russian [military] equipment stands in Genichesk itself; on its outskirts there are checkpoints with Russian troops. They check those entering whether they belonging to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”

Fighting continued in Nova Kakhovka. At about noon on February 25, Russian troops seized the administrative building of the Novokakhovka city council. However, a few hours later, the soldiers left the city council building, according to Nova Kakhovka mayor Volodymyr Kovalenko.

“They negotiated with me and my deputies,” he said. “They listened to our wishes, among which were to keep tanks and armoured vehicles off the city’s streets. After that, they removed the security from the building and departed in an unknown direction.”

Kovalenko said that he was working day and night to try and keep the city functioning, with all communication with the regional authority lost. Others fear a power vaccum, with some local counsellors having evacuated and the police,  state security service and prosecutor's office not functioning in either Novo Kakhovka or Kakhovka. 

To prevent looting, Kakhovka was patrolled by the local volunteers, and 20 representatives of the municipal security organisations helped maintain calm in Nova Kakhova.

“Regarding weapons, we had only two [non-lethal] pistols and the aim to prevent widespread looting,” said local resident Sergiy Tsigipa, one of the organisers of the local defence battalion.

“We're in hell here,” said Lyudmila Annas, the village of Vesyoloye. “Since seven in the morning on February 25, they have been bombing, there are many Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers in the village. They go everywhere: along the streets, gardens of local residents. There is a lot of Russian military equipment on the village sports fields, a whole military unit of them stands nearby. Hot shrapnel falls on the adjacent areas. People are afraid to leave the house.”

Berislav mayor Oleksandr Shapovalov told IWPR that the entire area had been left without power.

“We had an electricity blackout in the town and in all the surrounding villages. There were disruptions in supplying bread to the local hospital, however later on the 25th we started to resolve these issues.”

Roads were damaged in other large communities of the Kakhovskya district.

“Local authorities are now trying to repair these damages,” said local mayor Maksim Kolokot.

The swift progress of the invasion at first shocked the local authorities of the Kherson oblast. Mayors and local officials complained about the lack of communication with the district authorities and the lack of access to key information on the first day of the war. 

For now, major infrastructure remains under the control of Russia.

“They check everyone incoming to the city whether they are members of the Ukraine army or not,” said Genadi Laguta, head of the Kherson oblast. “The Kahovskaya hydro power station is under the control of the enemy. Large military machinery also moved towards Berislav district as well as to Skadovskaya.”

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.