The Ukrainian army says Russia is gathering troops on the right bank of the Dnieper River as both sides appear ready for what could be a major battle for Kherson in southern Ukraine, as Russian officials claim all civilians have been evacuated from the city .
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on October 28 that Moscow sent up to 1,000 recently mobilized soldiers to compensate for the loss of personnel suffered from an ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Kherson region.
Live briefing: Russian invasion of Ukraine
RFE/RLs Live briefing gives you all the latest developments on the ongoing invasion of Russia, the Kiev counter-offensive, western military aid, global response, Russian protests and the plight of civilians. For all RFE/RL coverage of the war, click here.
“The command of the Russian occupying forces, in order to avoid panic among the personnel, tries by all means to hide the real losses of soldiers …. There is a reinforcement of the enemy group on the right bank of the temporarily occupied territory of the Kherson region with mobilized military personnel of up to 1,000 people,” the general staff said in a statement.
Ukraine has continued an offensive to reclaim the Kherson region and the capital of the same name, which Russian forces captured during the early days of the war.
Ukrainian forces surrounded Kherson from the west and attacked Russia on the right bank of the Dnieper River.
However, rough terrain and bad weather held back the Ukrainian army’s main advance into Kherson, officials said.
Kherson, one of four partially occupied provinces that Russia claims to have taken last month, controls the only land route to the Crimean peninsula that Russia illegally annexed in 2014 and the mouth of the Dnieper that divides Ukraine in two.
Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed governor of Crimea, said on Oct. 28 that President Vladimir Putin’s first deputy chief of staff, Sergei Kiriyenko, visited Kherson.
Kiriyenko, one of the most powerful officials in the Kremlin, visited the ferry dock evacuating people from the right bank of the Dnieper ahead of the expected Ukrainian offensive, Aksyonov said.
“The work to organize the departure of residents has been completed,” 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-installed regional administration.
The Ukrainian army said on Oct. 28 that troops had killed 44 Russian soldiers in the past 24 hours, adding that its troops 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 another 58 wounded in a Ukrainian artillery attack in Kherson this week. The comments were unusual as pro-Moscow forces have rarely admitted major losses on the battlefield.
WATCH: A local official told Russian conscripts “You are not cannon fodder” in a video recently published online. The men responded by shouting angrily that that’s actually exactly what they are. The incident, in the Ardatovsky district, some 360 kilometers east of Moscow, followed a torrent of videos in which Russian conscripts complain about old equipment and poor training.
In the eastern region of Donetsk, four locals were killed by Russian shelling, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the region’s military administration, said on Oct. 28.
Russian airstrikes, drone strikes and shelling of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure forced electricity supplies in the capital Kiev and other places, officials said.
Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat told a briefing on Oct. 28 that Ukraine has shot down more than 300 Iranian Shahed-136 “kamikaze” drones so far. The drones have become a key weapon in Russia’s attacks on critical Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
Iran has denied Ukrainian and Western allegations of supplying drones to Russia.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainians will not be intimidated by such tactics.
“Firing will not break us – to hear the enemy’s anthem on our land is scarier than the enemy’s missiles in our skies,” Zelenskiy said in his regular video speech on Oct. 27 as he looked outside in the dark next to the wreckage of a crashed drone.
WATCH: Ukrainian forces target Russian-launched drones, fighter jets and helicopters, using Soviet-era anti-aircraft systems with limited radar capabilities. They also use Western-supplied shoulder-launched missiles like the Stinger, but factors such as the weather can greatly influence their effectiveness.
Meanwhile, US officials, quoted by Reuters and the Associated Press, said the United States is preparing a new $275 million military aid package for Ukraine to bolster its counter-offensive against Russian forces.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials said there are no major new weapons in the US package, which is expected to be announced as early as October 28.
Instead, US aid is largely focused on replenishing thousands of ammunition for weapon systems already out there, including for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems known as HIMARS, which Ukraine has 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 tranche of weapons for Ukraine would be announced “very, very soon.”