Kherson: Ukrainian troops enter key city after Russian forces retreat, dealing blow to Putin


Kyiv, Ukraine
CNN

Ukrainian troops stormed the main city of Kherson on Friday as Russian forces retreated east, handing a major victory to Kyiv and marking one of the hardest times for President Vladimir Putin since the start of his offensive.

Excited citizens who had survived months of Russian captivity descended on the center of the city of Kherson, hugging the newly arrived Ukrainian soldiers, taking pictures with them, and waving Ukrainian flags.

A picture of happy events emerged hours after Russia announced it had withdrawn from the western bank of the Dnipro River in the southern Kherson region, leaving the regional capital Kherson and surrounding areas to Ukrainians.

The setback represents a major blow to Putin’s war effort in Ukraine. Kherson was the only Ukrainian regional capital that Russian forces had captured since the February offensive. Their retreat east across the Dnipro leaves large swathes of land occupied by Russia since the early days of the war, which Putin formally declared as Russian territory just five weeks ago.

“The flag of Ukraine has been raised in the city of Kherson. From now on, the Ukrainian flag will appear on all buildings in Kherson. This is what we have been dreaming about since the first days of our stay, said Serhiy Khlan, a member of the Kherson regional council in Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces advanced into much of the Kherson region on Friday, apparently meeting little or no resistance. Social media videos from towns and villages though the west bank of the region show troops being greeted by people.

A crowd cheers and chants as they surround a car carrying Ukrainian soldiers in the Kherson suburb on Friday.

Residents raised Ukrainian flags in the city of Kherson, which was occupied by Russia until Friday.

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced early Friday that its forces had completed the withdrawal from the Kherson region, after Moscow ordered the withdrawal on Wednesday.

On the Kherson side, the evacuation of Russian forces to the left bank of the Dnieper River was completed at 0500. [Moscow time] this morning,” the ministry said on the official Telegram channel, using the Russian spelling of river.

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Not a single military weapon was left behind on the right [west] bank,” added the statement. “All the Russian workers have moved to the left bank of the Dnieper.”

Earlier on Friday, Ukraine’s military on the ground said Russian troops were “immediately loading boats that appear suitable for crossing and trying to escape” across the river.

It was not clear that all the Russian forces had left Kherson and the wider region; Khlan said the city was “almost under the control of the Ukrainian armed forces” but warned that some Russian forces may be lagging behind local outfits.

He warned that many Russian soldiers “have thrown away their military uniforms, and are now hiding in civilian clothes.”

He said: “They will make a plot to enrage, make conspiracies in the city.” “There is a lot of work ahead in terms of removing the explosives and cleaning up the city.” Residents of the city of Kherson that CNN spoke to in recent weeks confirmed that many Russian soldiers are wearing civilian clothes.

The Ukrainian military said it would proceed with caution in the Kherson region, and warned Russian forces were mining roads and destroying infrastructure as they withdrew from the Kherson region.

“The Russian invaders continue to loot the settlements they retreated to,” said Oleksandr Shtupun. “The enemy is also trying to damage power lines, other transport facilities and infrastructure of the Kherson region.”

Pictures and video on social media on Friday showed that the Antonivskyi bridge, the main channel of the Dnipro in the Kherson region, was destroyed.

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Alexander Kots, a reporter for the Russian pro-government tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, which is affiliated with the Russian military, posted a video on his Telegram channel standing at the crossing, showing the entire middle section of the destroyed bridge. “Behind me there are two collapsed parts of the bridge,” Kots said. “They may have been detonated during the withdrawal of a group of Russian troops from the right bank to the left,” or from the west bank to the east bank.

The central part of the bridge appears to have been destroyed.

Russian forces have surrendered about 40% of the Kherson region, which crosses the Dnipro, in a few days.

Now that Ukrainian forces have retaken Kherson to the Dnipro river, the two sides face each other across the river at a distance of about 250 kilometers – from the area around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station to the Black Sea border.

As Russian forces fled, Ukrainian forces pushed forward behind them, seizing dozens of villages and settlements in the Kherson region above the Dnipro.

The Ukrainian army on Friday recaptured another part of the Kherson region, the village of Tyahinka near the strategic town of Nova Kakhovka, despite Russian forces destroying bridges in the village.

A video circulating on social media on Friday, geolocated and verified by CNN, showed Ukrainian troops being greeted by residents on the highway in Tyahinka. The village is only 20 kilometers west of the hydroelectric dam and bridges across the Dnieper river in Nova Kakhovka.

A number of photos, which have also been confirmed by CNN, show that Ukrainian forces were able to enter the village even though the highway bridge and the pedestrian bridge were destroyed by the Russians as they retreated. Most of the bridges crossing the Kherson region were destroyed or disabled during the conflict.

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Residents of the town of Bilozerka, on the western edge of the city of Kherson, raised a Ukrainian flag and tore down Russian propaganda billboards on Friday, according to videos on social media posted by CNN.

One video showed a Ukrainian flag flying over a World War II memorial, while another showed residents tearing down fake billboards and a young girl holding a Russian flag, which read: “Russia is here forever.”

Demonstrations of people greeting Ukrainian troops throughout the region are in stark contrast to the claims made by Russian officials in Kherson six weeks ago that 87% of voters there supported integration into the Russian Federation, in a referendum widely condemned by the international community as a scandal. Kherson was one of four Ukrainian regions illegally seized by Russia in September.

Officials in Kyiv had warned that withdrawing Russian troops could turn the regional capital of Kherson into a “city of death” in the wake of the withdrawal, and an official in southern Ukraine warned residents on Friday to be careful and return quickly to newly liberated territory because of the threat. of mines.

“There are many mines in free areas and residential areas,” Vitaliy Kim, head of the Mykolaiv regional military administration, said on Telegram. “Don’t go there for no reason. There are people injured.”

Putin’s spokesman on Friday insisted that the region remains part of Russia, despite Russia’s withdrawal.

“This is the subject of the Russian Federation,” said Dmitry Peskov during a regular interview with journalists. “It has been fixed and officially declared. There can be no change here. ”

Russia still controls a large part of the Kherson region – the region east of the Dnipro River.

When asked directly if Russia’s withdrawal was “shameful” to President Vladimir Putin, Peskov replied: “No.”

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