Pro-Russian officials say they have removed the bones of famed 18th-century Russian commander Grigory Potemkin from the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson.
Potemkin’s bones were taken from St. Catherine’s Cathedral and moved across the Dnipro River and further into Russian territory, along with a statue of the military leader, the region’s pro-Russian proxy governor Vladimir Saldo said at Crimea TV.
“We have moved the remains of His Serene Highness Prince Potemkin from the Church of Saint Catherine and the monument itself to the left. [east] bank,” Saldo said, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
Potemkin played a critical role in the annexation of Crimea by the Turks in 1783, and his memory is central to those in Russia who intend to restore the country’s former imperial gate. Putin relies heavily on his legacy to justify the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Monuments to naval commander Fyodor Ushakov and commanders Alexander Suvorov and Vasily Margelov were also removed from the church and taken to an undisclosed location, Saldo said. The relics will be returned when the city is safer, he added.
Prince Grigory Potemkin was an 18th century Russian statesman, army general, favorite and advisor to Empress Catherine the Great. His name has appeared several times in the Kremlin since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. More recently, in his speech at the ceremony for the annexation of new territories, Putin mentioned Potemkin as one of the founders of new cities in the eastern part of Ukraine, referring to the territory of Novorossiya which means “New Russia”.
Potemkin is believed to have been behind the plan to conquer Crimea which was first annexed by Russia in 1783 through a peace agreement with the Ottoman Empire. Later, he was awarded the rank of field marshal and founded the city of Sevastopol in Crimea, making it the main Russian naval base in the Black Sea. Potemkin’s new Black Sea Fleet played an important role in Russia’s success in the Second Turkish War of 1768-1774.
In Russia, Potemkin’s name is most commonly associated with “Potemkin villages”, a term used to define cover facades designed specifically to hide an unsightly truth and create a false appearance of well-being. The phraseology goes back to a disproven historical myth about him arranging ostentatious decorations, such as allegedly putting up cardboard villages with painted ships and cannons, to impress Catherine the Great and her foreign companions during a trip to Crimea after its annexation .
The move to remove his remains came as Ukrainian forces pounded the city of Kherson, following a series of successful counter-offensives in the surrounding region.
The situation in the city is “tense” with Russia stationing “a large number of Russian soldiers” there, a city official told Ukrainian TV on Friday.
“People in the occupied territories with whom I communicated say that there are more Russian soldiers on the streets of the city than local residents,” said Halyna 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 “mobilised reservists” had been sent to reinforce Russian troops in the regional capital and the western shore.
Over the past two weeks, Kherson’s Kremlin-backed administration has broadcast dire messages about an imminent Ukrainian attempt to retake the city, and transported thousands of residents across the Dnipro River, deeper into Russian territory. . Ukraine has accused Russia of creating “hysteria” to force residents to leave.
Moscow has also begun to reduce the footprint of its occupation in Kherson. Ukrainian officials say the Russians are moving the wounded, administrative services and financial institutions out of the city, while sending more troops to fortify their positions.
Museums and other cultural organizations 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.