In Ukraine's Kherson, Plans for Latest Russian 'Pseudo-Republic' Take Shape

In Ukraine's occupied Kherson, a senior pro-Moscow official has explained how the region may eventually become part of Russia.

Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-backed Kherson Military-Civilian Administration, was quoted by state-owned media as saying on Tuesday that a there is high chance a referendum will take place in Kherson, as part of a process that may pave the way for the region to join Russia.

The Kherson region has been almost entirely under the control of Russian forces since the beginning of March, when it became the first major city to be seized by Russian President Vladimir Putin's troops since the war began.

Ukrainian authorities and Western intelligence officials have long raised concerns that Russia intends to hold a referendum on the creation of the Kherson People's Republic in the region, although the Kremlin has so far denied the claims. Ukraine has called plans to hold a referendum in the city a sham.

The new regional government is already phasing out Ukraine's currency, the hryvnia, and introducing the Russian ruble.

A Ukrainian soldier in Zelenyi Hai
A Ukrainian soldier stands outside a school hit by Russian rockets in the southern Ukraine village of Zelenyi Hai between Kherson and Mykolaiv, on April 1, 2022. Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-backed Kherson Military-Civilian Administration, was quoted by state-owned media as saying that a there is high chance a referendum will take place in Kherson, as part of a process that will pave the way for the region to join Russia. BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

A referendum on the accession of Kherson to Russia has been planned, Stremousov told reporters on Tuesday.

"This is likely to be a referendum that will be held in the territory of the Kherson region," the official said.

"And the next stage will be the elections, which we will hold directly on the territory of the liberated Kherson region. And then we will continue to work legislatively," Stremousov said, noting that it will be up to residents to determine Kherson's fate.

He said the new regional government decided to create a public council that represents the residents.

Stremousov didn't elaborate on when the he expects a referendum will be held in Kherson.

There is still a lot of work ahead for people to make a decision "in favor of something good, bright," he said.

In May, Stremousov told Reuters that a referendum might be held, but said he saw a decision on Kherson joining Russia "towards next year."

"We'll announce later when some kind of vote or plebiscite is planned, but it won't be today and it won't be tomorrow because our first task is to restore order in the Kherson region," he said.

And weeks earlier, he told Russian state media that "there will be no referendums."

Newsweek has contacted Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ukraine's foreign ministry for comment.

Britain's defense ministry said last month that it is likely that the Kremlin aims to control Ukraine's Kherson in the long-term, given it has ruled out its return to Ukrainian control and rolled out a currency switch from May 1.

On May 6, top Putin ally Senator Andrei Turchak, United Russia's general council secretary, told residents during a visit to the region that Russia will be in the city "forever."

"I wanted to say once again, addressing the residents of the Kherson region, that Russia is here forever. There should be no doubt about that," he said. "There will be no return to the past. We will live together, develop this rich area—rich in historical heritage, rich in our people who live here."