Pro-Russian officials say they have removed the bones of the famous 18th century Russian commander Grigory Potemkin from the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson.
Potemkin’s bones were removed from St. Catherine’s Cathedral and carried across the Dnipro River into Russian-controlled territory, along with a statue of the military leader, the region’s pro-Russian governor, Vladimir Saldo, told Crimean TV.
“We have removed the remains of His Highness Prince Potemkin from St. Catherine’s Church and the memorial itself to the left. [east] Saldo said, according to the 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 essential to those within Russia bent on restoring the country’s former imperial influence. Putin has largely relied on his legacy to justify the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Saldo said memorials to Navy Commander Fyodor Ushakov and commanders Alexander Suvorov and Vasily Margelov were removed from the church and moved to an undisclosed location. He added that the antiquities will be returned when the city becomes safer.
Prince Grigory Potemkin was an 18th-century Russian statesman, army major general, favorite and advisor to Empress Catherine the Great. His name has appeared several times in the Kremlin since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Recently, in his speech at the ceremony of annexation of the new lands, Putin mentioned Potemkin as one of the founders of new cities in the eastern part of Ukraine referring to the region as Novorossiya which means “New Russia”.
Potemkin is believed to have been behind the plan to invade Crimea, which was first annexed by Russia in 1783 as a result of a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire. He subsequently received the rank of Field Marshal and founded the city of Sevastopol in the Crimea, making it the main Russian naval base on the Black Sea. The newly built Potemkin Fleet in the Black Sea played an important role in Russia’s success in the Second Turkish War of 1768-1774.
In Russia, the name Potemkin is most commonly associated with “Potemkin villages”, a term used to define cover-up facades specially designed to disguise an ugly reality and create a false appearance of luxury. The ferries go back to a debunked historical legend of him arranging ostentatious decorations, such as placing cardboard villages with painted ships and cannons, to impress Catherine the Great and her foreign companions during a trip to the Crimea after its annexation.
A move was taken to remove his remains while Ukrainian forces were pressing on the city of Kherson, after a series of successful counterattacks in the surrounding area.
A city official told Ukrainian TV on Friday that the situation in the city was “tense” with Russia deploying “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 the local population,” said Halina Lohova, a member of the Kherson city council.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence update on Friday that it was “likely” that “mobilized reservists” would be sent to reinforce Russian forces in the regional capital and the West Bank.
Over the past two weeks, the Kremlin-backed Kherson administration has broadcast dire messages about an imminent Ukrainian attempt to retake the city, moving thousands of residents across the Dnipro River, deep into Russian-controlled territory. Ukraine accused Russia of creating “hysteria” to force residents to leave.
Moscow also began to reduce the impact 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 struggling to save the country’s artifacts and antiquities since the invasion of Russia in February.
In May, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russian forces had destroyed hundreds of sites of cultural significance.