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Russian officials said on Thursday that occupying forces in Ukraine will soon look to annex Kherson as intense fighting continues over the southern region.
Krill Stremousov, a Ukrainian national wanted for treason by Kyiv who also serves as the deputy head of Russia’s separatist forces in Kherson, took to Telegram to say, “We are getting ready for the referendum, we will hold it.”
“I hope that in the near future already we will become a full-fledged territorial entity of the Russian Federation,” he added according to Russian media.
Stremousov has been claiming for months that Russian forces in the southern region are preparing to hold a referendum to “vote” on the annexation of Kherson to Russia.
However, his renewed claims come as defense officials champion advances made by Ukrainian armed forces in the region that has seen Russian occupation since early March.
A key bridge was closed this week after Ukrainian forces used U.S.-supplied HIMARS to target the strategically important thoroughfare Russian forces in Kherson have relied on for access to occupied areas north of Crimea.
Damaging the Antonovsky Bridge, which crosses the Dnieper River, is major victory for Ukrainian forces as they look to block Russian transportation and logistics routes into Kherson.
The U.K.’s defense ministry on Thursday said Ukrainian forces are “gathering momentum” in Kherson and said it was “highly likely” they have established a “bridgehead” south of the Ingulets River – a tributary to the Dnieper River.
“Which forms the northern boundary of Russian-occupied Kherson,” the ministry highlighted.
The ministry assessed that Ukrainian forces have damaged at least three bridges over the Dnieper River; bridges that Russian soldiers relied on.
“Kherson city, the most politically significant population center occupied by Russia, is now virtually cut off from the other occupied territories,” U.K.’s defense ministry added. “Its loss would severely undermine Russia’s attempts to paint the occupation as a success.”
Stremousov denied Western assertions that Ukraine has made some advances in the southern region.
Kherson regional authorities on Thursday claimed that Russian forces have banned the use of Ukrainian currency and people who are found to using the hryvnia currency will be “punished.”
Intense fighting continues throughout the Kherson region as Ukrainian forces look to take back their territory from Russian occupation.