Pro-Russian officials say they have removed the bones of famed 18th-century Russian commander Grigory Potemkin from the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson.
Vladimir Saldo, the region’s pro-Russian proxy governor, told Crimean TV that Potemkin’s bones were taken from St. Catherine’s Cathedral and moved across the Dnipro River and into Russian-held territory, along with a statue of the military leader.
“We moved the remains of His Serene Highness Prince Potemkin from St. Catherine’s Church and the monument to the left. [east] bank,” Saldo said, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
Potemkin played a crucial role in the annexation of Crimea from the Turks in 1783, and his memory is central to those inside Russia intent on restoring the country’s former imperial dominions. Putin often leaned on his heritage to justify his annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Monuments to naval commander Fyodor Ushakov and commanders Alexander Suvorov and Vasily Margelov were removed from the church and taken to an unknown location, Saldo said. He said the remains would be returned when the city was safe.
Prince Grigory Potemkin was an 18th century Russian statesman, army general, favorite and advisor of Empress Catherine the Great. His name has come up a few times in the Kremlin since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. More recently, in a speech marking the annexation of the new territories, Putin mentioned Potemkin as one of the founders of new towns in the eastern part of Ukraine, referring to the region as Novorossiya, which stands for “New Russia”.
Potemkin is believed to be behind the plan to conquer Crimea, which was first annexed by Russia in 1783 as a result of a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire. He subsequently attained the rank of field marshal and founded the city of Sevastopol in the Crimea, Russia’s main naval base on the Black Sea. Potemkin’s newly built Black Sea fleet was instrumental in Russia’s success in the Second Turkish War of 1768–1774.
In Russia, Potemkin’s name is often associated with “Potemkin villages”, used to define cover-up facades specially designed to hide the ugly truth and create a false appearance of well-being. The phrase goes back to a historical myth that was rejected by Catherine the Great and her foreign allies during a trip to the Crimea after its annexation, arranging ostentatious decorations such as putting up cardboard villages with painted ships and cannons.
Action was taken to remove his remains as Ukrainian forces regained control of the city of Kherson after a series of successful counter-attacks in the surrounding area.
A city official told Ukrainian TV on Friday that the situation in the city was “intense”, with Russia stationing “a large number of Russian soldiers” there.
“People in the occupied territories with whom I communicate say that there are more Russian soldiers on the streets of the city than local residents,” said Halina Luhova, a member of the Kherson city council.
The UK Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence update on Friday that it was “likely” that “equipped reservists” had been sent to reinforce Russian troops in the regional capital and the West Bank.
Over the past two weeks, Kherson’s Kremlin-backed regime has broadcast dire messages about an imminent Ukrainian attempt to retake the city and transport thousands of residents across the Dnipro River into Russian-held territory. Ukraine accuses Russia of creating “hysteria” to force residents to leave.
Moscow has begun reducing its employment footprint in Kherson. Ukrainian officials say the Russians are evacuating wounded people, administrative services and financial institutions out of the city, sending more troops to reinforce their positions.
Museums and other cultural institutions in Ukraine have been fighting to save the country’s artifacts and relics since Russia invaded in February.
In May, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian forces had destroyed hundreds of culturally significant sites.