Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled his support for the evacuation of residents in Kherson, Ukraine, as the country struggles to hold on to the land it has captured during its eight-month war. 

Reuters reported on Saturday that Putin told pro-Kremlin activists in remarks that those who live in Kherson should be “removed from the zone of the most dangerous actions” because civilians should not have to “suffer.” 

Putin made the remarks during a speech for Russia’s Day of National Unity.

Russia already initiated some evacuations from Kherson, a region of Ukraine that Russia illegally annexed through a referendum last month. The referendum was panned as a “sham” and largely condemned by the international community.

The news also comes amid an ongoing counteroffensive by Ukraine that began two months ago. The Ukrainian military — aided by the United States — has been able to take back occupied land in the south and eastern parts of the country.

Ukraine is reportedly seeking to liberate the captured city of Kherson, which caused Russia to expand its fighting force and civilian evacuations on Tuesday. 

The Russian flag has come down from the main administrative building in Ukraine, potentially signaling a retreat, but Ukrainian officials believe Russia may be looking to set a trap for Ukrainian soldiers.

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