Pro-Russian officials say they have removed the bones of famed Russian commander Grigory Potemkin from the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson.
Potemkin’s bones were taken from St. Catherine’s Cathedral and transported across the Dnipro River into Russian territory, along with a statue of the military leader, Vladimir Saldo, Russia’s proxy governor of the region, told Crimea TV.
“We have moved the remains of His Serene Highness Prince Potemkin from the Church of Santa Catalina and the monument itself to the left. [east] bank,” Saldo said, according to Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.
Potemkin played an important role in the annexation of Crimea from the Turks in 1783, and his memory is central to those who wish to restore the country’s former imperial expanse within Russia. Putin drew on his legacy to justify his 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 moved to an undisclosed location, Saldo said. The relics will be returned when the city is safer, he added.
Prince Grigory Potemkin 18th century Russia A 19th-century statesman, army general, he was the favorite and adviser of the empress Catherine the Great. His name has come up in the Kremlin a few times since Russia invaded Ukraine. In a recent speech at the annexation ceremony, Putin cited Potemkin as one of the founders of the new towns in eastern Ukraine, referring to the territory he calls Novorossiya “New Russia”.
He is believed to be behind Potemkin’s plan to conquer Crimea, which Russia first annexed in 1783 as a result of a peace deal with the Ottoman Empire. He was then promoted to field marshal and founded the Crimean city of Sevastopol, making it Russia’s main naval base on the Black Sea. Potemkin’s newly built Black Sea fleet played a major role in Russia’s success in the Second Turkish War of 1768-1774.
In Russia, Potemkin’s name is most often associated with “Potemkin villages”, a term used to define cover-up facades specifically designed to hide an unpleasant truth and create a false appearance of well-being. The phraseology originates from a debunked historical myth that she organized glamorous decorations, such as putting up cardboard villages with painted ships and cannons, to impress Catherine the Great and her foreign friends on a trip to the Crimea after her annexation.
The move to remove his remains came as Ukrainian forces struck the city of Kherson, following successful counter-attacks in the surrounding region.
The situation in the city is “tense” because Russia is stationing “a large number of Russian soldiers” there, a city official told Ukrainian television on Friday.
“People in the occupied territories I talk to say there are more Russian soldiers on the streets of the city than their residents,” said Halyna Luhova, a member of the Kherson municipality.
The UK Ministry of Defense said in its daily briefing on Friday that it was “likely” that “mobilized reserves” had been sent to reinforce Russian troops in the regional capital and west.
Over the past two weeks, Kherson’s Kremlin-backed administration has sent grim messages about its attempt to retake the Ukrainian city, transporting thousands of residents across the Dnipro River, deep into Russian territory. Ukraine has accused Russia of creating “hysteria” to force residents to leave.
Moscow is also beginning to reduce the footprint of its occupation in Kherson. Ukrainian officials say the Russians are moving wounded people, administrative services and financial institutions out of the city, and are sending more troops to reinforce their positions.
Ukrainian museums and other cultural institutions have been fighting to save the country’s artifacts and relics since Russia invaded in February.
In May, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky said Russian forces had destroyed hundreds of culturally significant sites.