Pro-Russian officials ‘assassinated’ in Kherson ahead of Ukraine offensive

Ukrainian units on the front line in Kherson south of Mikolaiv - Paul Grover for The Telegraph
Ukrainian units on the front line in Kherson south of Mikolaiv - Paul Grover for The Telegraph

Ukrainian partisans appear to have launched a campaign of assassinations of pro-Russian officials in occupied Kherson ahead of a planned offensive to recapture the region.

On Saturday, Vitaly Gur, the Moscow-installed deputy head of the town of Nova Kakhovka, near Kherson, was shot as he stepped out of his apartment block. He died on his way to hospital in Crimea, according to Russian media.

Investigators reportedly found discarded bullet casings from a Makarov semi-automatic pistol near Gur’s house. The reliable Makarov pistol was the standard-issue sidearm for the Soviet military, KGB agents and police.

“He has died, as far as I know,” said Vladimir Leontiev, head of the pro-Russia collaborator Kherson region government. “He was in hospital. Military doctors tried to save his life.”

Nova Kakhovka, a town of around 45,000 people on the southern bank of the River Dnipro, is a vital hub for Russian efforts to resupply the city of Kherson, 35 miles further downstream on the northern bank of the river.

Ukrainians step up attacks on pro-Russians

It comes a day after the pro-Russia mayor of the city suddenly fell so ill that he had to be put into an induced coma. Vladimir Saldo was sent to Crimea and later flown to the Sklifosovsky Emergency Research Institute in Moscow for toxicology tests.

Russian news reports differed on what Mr Saldo was suffering from. Some reported that he had suffered a stroke, others that he was ill with Covid. Opposition media said he had been poisoned.

Over the past couple of months, saboteurs and assassins have increased their attacks in the Kherson region.

In June, car bombs killed the collaborator head of its prison service and a senior pro-Russian official in the civilian government. In July, a bomb blew up a car with two policemen inside, reportedly killing one.

The assassinations come as Ukraine gears up for an offensive to retake the strategic region. Russian forces captured the area, which lies next to Crimea, without a fight in the first few days of the war.

Fighting has stalled in Donbas, previously the focus. Instead, the UK Ministry of Defence said efforts had shifted to the south, where the war was entering a “new phase” along a 225-mile frontline.

There, Ukrainian forces have pounded bridges over the River Dnipro, vital for Russian supply lines to the city of Kherson. To counter this, Russia has sent thousands of extra soldiers as reinforcements.

“Long convoys of Russian military trucks, tanks, towed artillery, and other weapons continue to move away from Ukraine’s Donbas region and are headed southwest,” said the MoD.

Russian forces have also intensified missile attacks on the city of Mykolaiv, 25 miles from Kherson. It acts as a gateway to the western section of Ukraine’s coastline and the vital port city of Odesa.

This weekend, the city introduced a curfew from late Friday to early Monday morning as authorities tried to catch people collaborating with Russia.

“The city will be closed for the weekend. Please be understanding,” Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykolaiv region, told residents through his Telegram social media channel. “We are also working on collaborators. Districts will undergo checks.”

In an interview with The Telegraph last month, Mr Kim said collaborators were sending Russian artillery the coordinates of Ukrainian positions in the city and needed to be hunted down.

On Saturday, the Ukrainian SBU intelligence agency said it had detained two men suspected of identifying targets for Russian missile strikes that wrecked shipbuilding infrastructure in the southern port city.