One of the most senior Russian-appointed officials in occupied Ukrainian territory has been killed, Russian officials and state news agencies said Wednesday.
The Russian-appointed deputy head of the Kherson region in southern Ukraine, Kirill Stremousov, died in a road accident, the press secretary of the head of the region said, according to Russian news agency TASS.
Also on Wednesday, Russia ordered a retreat from the west bank of the Dnipro River across the Kherson region, a dramatic setback for Moscow in the face of recent Ukrainian advances.
Stremousov was killed in an accident on the highway between Kherson and Armyansk in Crimea, the 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 Russian-appointed “head” of Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, who wrote in a statement on Telegram: “It is very hard for me to say that Kirill Stremousov died today. He died on the territory of the Kherson region, moving in a car that got into an accident.”
Stremousov, a Ukrainian who was quick to side with the Russian occupation when Kherson fell early in the invasion, had become one of the most vocal and outspoken of Russian appointees.
As deputy head of the Kherson region military administration, Stremousov was prominent in organizing and supporting the referendum on Kherson’s illegal annexation by Russia and more recently had been the driving force in the evacuation of civilians from the west bank in Kherson, as Ukrainian forces pushed toward the Dnipro.
On Tuesday, Stremousov said: “Most residents who decided to stay in Kherson are only now beginning to realize the gravity of the situation and my warnings.”
Stremousov frequently took to Telegram to describe Ukrainian officials and forces as “Nazis” and “fascists.” But he was also critical of missteps by the Russian military. 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 Sergey Shoigu ordered the withdrawal of Russian forces from the west 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 make advances toward the city of Kherson from two directions.
Russian forces have also destroyed bridges across occupied parts of the Kherson region west of the Dnipro, a local Ukrainian official and Russian military analysts on Telegram reported earlier.
A Ukrainian official expressed skepticism about the 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 regarding the death of collaborator Kirill Stremousov in an accident, so far we can neither confirm nor deny the information. It may be true, or it may be staged.”
Stremousov had previously had a checkered career as a local politician in Kherson, and was involved in several fracas. He also dabbled in paganism and a peculiar form of yoga. Video from 2017 showed him swinging his baby daughter around his head by her feet.
Stremousov is not the first Russian-backed leader to die in murky circumstances. Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of Russian-backed separatists, was killed in the bombing of a café in 2018. Several separatist commanders were also killed in a string of assassinations before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine that went unsolved.
Russian and separatist leaders blamed Ukraine for the killings. Ukrainian officials in turn claimed the Moscow was eliminating troublesome local leaders. Several prominent separatists had reputed links to organized crime and some observers suggested their deaths may have also been score-settling by criminal groups.