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Russian-installed officials in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region said on Monday they were extending an evacuation zone from the Dnipro river, repeating claims rejected by Kyiv that Ukraine could be preparing to attack the Kakhovka dam and flood the region.

In a post on Telegram, Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-backed head of the region, which is partially occupied by Russian forces, said he was extending the area covered by an order for civilians to evacuate by an additional 15 km (9 miles) to include another seven settlements.

“Due to the possibility of the use of prohibited methods of war by the Ukrainian regime, as well as information that Kyiv is preparing a massive missile strike on the Kakhovka hydroelectric station, there is an immediate danger of the Kherson region being flooded, (resulting in) the mass destruction of civilian infrastructure and humanitarian catastrophe,” Saldo said in a video message posted on Monday evening.

“Given the situation, I have decided to expand the evacuation zone by 15 kilometres from the Dnipro the decision will make it possible to create a layered defence in order to repel Ukrainian attacks and protect civilians.” Kyiv has denied it plans to attack the Kakhovka dam, a 30-metre (100 ft) high, 3.2-kilometre long facility and unleash a reservoir the size of the Great Salt Lake across southern Ukraine, flooding towns and villages, several of which Russian forces seized at the start of the war.

Ukraine said repeated Russian claims that Ukraine is preparing an attack on the dam, which regulates water supplies to the annexed Crimean peninsula and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, were a sign that Russia itself was considering staging an attack and blaming it on Kyiv and its Western supporters.

Russia has been evacuating tens of thousands of civilians from the western bank of the Dnipro river in recent weeks, under an advancing Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Russia digging in for ‘heaviest of battles’ in Kherson

Russian-installed officials are offering civilians one-time payments of 100,000 roubles ($1,628) to leave, and Moscow is providing housing in other regions of Russia, Saldo said.

President Vladimir Putin moved to annex the Kherson region last month after staging referendums in four Ukrainian regions that were slammed as sham and illegal by Kyiv and the West.

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