One of the most senior Russian-appointed officials in the occupied Ukrainian territory has been killed, Russian officials and state news agencies reported on Wednesday.
Russian-appointed deputy head of southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, has died in a car accident, the regional head’s press secretary said, according to Russian news agency TASS.
Also on Wednesday, Russia ordered a withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River through the Kherson region, a dramatic setback for Moscow in the face of recent Ukrainian advances.
Stremousov died in an accident on the road between Kherson and Armyansk in Crimea, Russian state media company Vesti (VGTRK) reported, citing the region’s health minister. Stremousov was 45 years old, according to Vesti.
His death was also announced by the “chief” of Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, who wrote in a statement on Telegram: “It is very difficult for me to say that Kirill Stremousov died today. He died on the territory of the Kherson region, moving in a car that suffered a accident”.
Stremousov, a Ukrainian who was quick to side with the Russian occupation when Kherson fell early in the invasion, has become one of the most vocal and outspoken Russian appointees.
As deputy head of the military administration of the Kherson region, Stremousov was prominent in organizing and supporting the referendum on Russia’s illegal annexation of Kherson and, more recently, had been the driving force behind the evacuation of civilians from the West Bank in Kherson, while Ukrainian forces were advancing on the Dnipro.
On Tuesday, Stremousov said: “Most of the residents who decided to stay in Kherson are only now beginning to understand the seriousness of the situation and my warnings.”
Stremousov frequently took to Telegram to describe Ukrainian officials and forces as “Nazis” and “fascists.” But he also criticized the Russian military’s missteps. He had blamed the military setbacks in Kherson on “incompetent commanders” who had not been held accountable for their mistakes.
Later on Wednesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered the withdrawal of Russian forces from the western bank of the Dnipro, Russian state media reported.
This would be the most significant military development in the war since Ukrainian forces swept through the northern Kharkiv region in September. Shoigu’s order came as Ukrainian forces were advancing on the city of Kherson from two directions.
Russian forces also destroyed bridges across occupied parts of the Kherson region west of the Dnipro, a local Ukrainian official and Russian military analysts reported earlier on Telegram.
A Ukrainian official expressed skepticism about reports of Stremousov’s death. Yuriy Sobolevskyi, first deputy head of the Ukrainian Kherson regional council, said on Telegram: “Regarding the information spread by the occupiers and Russian sources about the death of the collaborator Kirill Stremousov in an accident, at the moment we can neither confirm nor deny the information. It may be true, or it may be staged.”
Stremousov previously had a career as a local politician in Kherson, and was involved in several disputes. He also dabbled in paganism and a peculiar form of yoga. A 2017 video showed her swinging her daughter around her head by her feet.
Stremousov is not the first Russian-backed leader to die under murky circumstances. Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of Russian-backed separatists, was killed in a cafe bombing in 2018. Several separatist commanders were also killed in a series of assassinations before Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine that has not been resolved.
Russian and separatist leaders blamed Ukraine for the killings. Ukrainian officials in turn claimed that Moscow was removing troublesome local leaders. A number of prominent separatists had reputed links to organized crime and some observers suggested their deaths may also have been orchestrated by criminal groups.