Kherson residents celebrate Russia’s eight-month occupation ends It was the third day in a row on Sunday, even as they assessed the extensive damage left by retreating Kremlin forces in southern Ukrainian cities.
Jubilant crowds gathered on Kherson’s main square, although the roar of artillery fire could be heard in the distance as Ukrainian troops fought to drive back Moscow’s invading forces.
“It’s a new year for us now,” said Karina Zaikina, 24, who tied a yellow and blue ribbon in Ukrainian national colors on her coat. “For the first time in months, I’m not afraid to go into town.”
“Finally, free!” said 61-year-old resident Tetiana Hitina. “The city is dead.”
But even as locals rejoice, evidence of a brutal Russian occupation is everywhere, with Russian troops still controlling 70 percent of the wider Kherson region.
With cellphone networks down, Zaikina and others lined up to use satellite phone connections for everyone in the square, allowing them to exchange news with family and friends for the first time in weeks.
Downtown stores are closed. During the Russian occupation, many people fled the city, and the city streets were sparsely populated. Many of the few who ventured out on Sunday wore yellow and blue flags. In the square, people lined up and asked the soldiers to sign their flags and rewarded them with hugs. Some people cried.
To make matters worse, Kherson also has no electricity or running water, and food and medical supplies are in short supply. Residents said Russian troops plundered the city as they evacuated last week, transporting the spoils. They also damaged vital public infrastructure before retreating to the east bank of the wide Dnieper. A Ukrainian official described the situation in Kherson as “a humanitarian disaster”.
“I don’t understand what kind of person this is. I don’t know why they do it,” said Yevhen Teliezhenko, a resident wearing the Ukrainian flag.
However, he said, once the Russians left, “breathing became easier”.
“There’s no better holiday than what’s happening right now,” he declared.
Ukrainian authorities say demining of critical infrastructure is underway in the city. Kherson regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said reconnecting the electricity supply was a priority and the gas supply was already guaranteed.
Russia’s withdrawal marks a victory milestone in Ukraine’s push back against Moscow’s invasion nearly nine months ago. Over the past two months, the Ukrainian military has claimed to have retaken dozens of towns and villages north of the city of Kherson.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to continue pressure on Russian forces to reassure people in Ukrainian cities and villages still under occupation.
“We don’t forget anybody; we don’t leave anybody,” he said.
Ukraine’s retake of Kherson is a major setback for the Kremlin and the latest in a series of battlefield embarrassments. About six weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed the Kherson region and three other provinces in southern and eastern Ukraine in violation of international law and declared them Russian territory.
The U.S. embassy in Kyiv tweeted on Sunday comments from national security adviser Jack Sullivan, who described the turnaround in Kherson as an “extraordinary victory” and a “very remarkable thing” for Ukraine.
Although Putin recently mobilized some of the reservists, increasing the number of troops by about 300,000 people, the situation has reversed. This makes it difficult for the Russian military to digest.
The Washington-based Institute for War Institute commented: “Russian military leadership is trying to integrate combat forces from many different organizations, with many different types and levels of skills and equipment, into a more cohesive Ukrainian combat force, but in very largely unsuccessful.” , a think tank that tracks conflict
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the Kremlin would be “concerned” by losing Kherson, but warned against underestimating Moscow. “If they need more cannon fodder, they will,” he said.
Ukrainian police have called on residents to help identify collaborators with the Russian military. Ukrainian police returned to the city on Saturday along with the public broadcasting service. About 200 police officers were working in the city, setting up checkpoints and recording evidence of possible war crimes, Ukrainian National Police Chief Ihor Klimenko said.
The Russian-appointed administration of the Kakhovka district, east of the city of Kherson, announced on Saturday that it could be next in line for Ukraine’s march toward Moscow-annexed territory.
“Today, the government is the number one target of attacks in Ukraine,” said Pavel Filipchuk, the Moscow-appointed leader of Kakhovka. “As an authority, we are moving to a safer area from where we will lead the area.”
Kakhovka is located on the east bank of the Dnieper River, upstream of the Kakhovka Hydropower Station.
John Leicester from Kyiv, Ukraine contributed to this report.
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