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WRAPUP 10-Russian official says troops likely to abandon west bank of Ukraine's Dnipro

By Pavel Polityuk

KYIV, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Russian forces are likely to abandon their foothold on the west bank of Ukraine's Dnipro River, a Russian-installed occupation official said on Thursday, a Russian retreat that, if confirmed, would be a major turning point in the war.

There was no immediate Ukrainian response to the announcement of what would amount to one of Russia's most humiliating retreats since the invasion in February, just weeks after Moscow claimed to have annexed the area.

"Most likely our units, our soldiers, will leave for the left (eastern) bank," Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed deputy civilian administrator of the Kherson region, said in an interview with Solovyov Live, a pro-Kremlin online media outlet.

Russia has fought for months to hang on to the pocket of land it holds on the west bank of the river that bisects Ukraine, and had sent tens of thousands of troops to reinforce the area, making it one of Moscow's biggest priorities.

The area includes Kherson city, capital of the region of the same name, and the only major city Russia had captured intact since its invasion in February. It also includes a dam across the Dnipro which controls the water supply to irrigate Crimea, the peninsula Russia has occupied since 2014.

Ukraine has targetted the main river crossings for months, making it difficult for Russia to supply its huge force on the west bank. Ukrainian forces have been advancing along the river since bursting through the Russian frontline at the start of the month, although their advance had slowed in recent days.

Russia had ordered civilians to evacuate from occupied areas on the west bank, and this week also ordered them out of a 15 km buffer zone on the east bank as well. Kyiv says those evacuation orders amount to forced deportation, a war crime.

Stremousov urged civilians remaining in Kherson city to leave immediately, saying they were putting their lives in danger.

Ukraine has so far been cautious about whether Russia is in fact vacating positions in the area. Ukrainian troops on the front line last week said they saw no evidence Russian forces were withdrawing and believed they were reinforcing positions.

Moscow declared at the end of September that it had annexed Ukraine's Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzia regions after staging so-called referendums rejected as bogus and illegal by Kyiv and the West.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux Writing by Peter Graff, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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