MOSCOW (NYTIMES) - As Ukrainian forces continued counter-attacks to wrench back land in southern Ukraine, Russia took another step in its efforts to deepen its hold on the region: the proxy government in the Kherson region announced that all newborns would be granted Russian citizenship.
"Children born after Feb 24 in the Kherson region will automatically receive citizenship of the Russian Federation," Mr Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Moscow-imposed regional administration, told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, referring to the date of Russia's invasion. Orphans will also be registered as Russian citizens, he said.
The move comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to speed up the citizenship process for Ukrainians living in occupied territories and the local authorities began issuing Russian passports to local residents. It is part of a broader effort by Moscow to integrate occupied territories with Russia.
There are growing signs that Ukrainian guerrillas and loyalists living in occupied areas are complicating the Kremlin's plans. Russian political proxies have been attacked, partisans have helped direct Ukrainian military strikes behind enemy lines, schoolteachers have refused to teach Russian curricula and many essential workers are refusing to work for local authorities who support Russia.
"Russian authorities are continuing to face difficulties implementing their occupation agendas," the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think-tank, said in its most recent analysis of the conflict. "Pro-Ukrainian action will likely continue to disrupt Russian efforts to consolidate full-scale administrative control of occupied areas and Russian annexation agendas."
Ms Natalia Humeniuk, the spokesman for Ukraine's southern military command, said that Ukrainian forces continued to make tactical gains in targeted counterattacks. They are now fighting in villages within 20 miles of the regional capital city of Kherson, according to the Ukrainian military.
Ms Humeniuk said that she would not go into detail about where exactly Ukrainian forces are advancing because "every name mentioned could provide information for the enemies".
She said Russian forces were fortifying their defensive positions and directing long-range artillery fire at Ukrainian forces and recently liberated towns and villages.
It is increasingly difficult for civilians to escape occupied territory as Russian forces are mining many of the roads. "Even when people intend to evacuate, there is the high risk of people being directed to these mined areas," she said.
Russia has already given Russian citizenship to orphans from other parts of occupied Ukraine, prompting outrage in Kyiv.
President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of illegally taking about 200,000 children to Russia since the start of the war. That number, he said in a speech last month, includes children from orphanages, children taken with their parents and those separated from their families.
"The purpose of this criminal policy is not just to steal people, but to make those who are deported forget about Ukraine and unable to return," he said.