Ukraine celebrates Russian withdrawal from Kherson as massive reconstruction looms

Residents of Kherson celebrated the end of Russia eight month occupancy for the third consecutive day on Sunday, even as they took stock of the extensive damage left in the southern Ukrainian city by retreating Kremlin forces.

A jubilant crowd gathered in Kherson’s main square, despite the distant sounds of artillery fire which could be heard as Ukrainian forces continued with their effort to push The Moscow Invasion Force.

“It’s a new year for us now,” said Karina Zaikina, 24, who wore a yellow and blue ribbon in Ukraine’s national colors on her coat. “For the first time in many months, I wasn’t afraid to come to town.”

“Finally, freedom!” said Tetiana Hitina, a 61-year-old resident. “The city was dead.”

But even as locals rejoiced, evidence of Russia’s ruthless occupation was rife, and Russian forces still control around 70 percent of the wider Kherson region. Russian forces are less than a mile from the town, across the Nieper River, where they blew up the bridge after retreating. The Ukrainian army said it had already found thousands of explosives left behind, as well as military vehicles that the Russians hastily abandoned.

Recently recaptured village of Potemkin in Kherson Oblast, Ukraine
A view of the damaged settlement that was recently recaptured from Russian forces in the village of Potemkin, Kherson Oblast, Kherson, Ukraine, November 10, 2022.

Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Getting to the area requires a military escort, and the road to town is littered with bombed-out cars. The road itself is full of craters and unexploded ordnance from months of fighting.

With mobile phone networks down, Zaikina and others lined up to use a satellite phone connection set up for the use of all in the square, allowing them to exchange news with family and friends to the first time in weeks.

Downtown stores were closed. With many people having fled the city during the Russian occupation, the streets of the city were sparsely populated. Many of the few who ventured out on Sunday carried yellow and blue flags. In the square, people lined up to ask the soldiers to sign their flags and rewarded them with hugs. Some cried.

Darker still, Kherson is also without electricity or running water, and food and medical supplies are in short supply. Residents said Russian troops looted the town, taking the spoils when they withdrew last week. They also destroyed key public infrastructure before retreating across the wide Dnieper River to its eastern bank. A Ukrainian official called the situation in Kherson a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

“I don’t understand what kind of people these are. I don’t know why they did this,” said Yevhen Teliezhenko, a resident draped in a Ukrainian flag.

Still, he says, “it became easier to breathe” once the Russians left.

Local residents surround a Ukrainian soldier as they celebrate the liberation of Kherson, November 13, 2022, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

AFP via Getty Images

“There’s no better holiday than what’s happening now,” he said.

Ukrainian authorities said demining of critical infrastructure was underway in the city. Reconnecting electricity supply is the priority, with gas supply already secured, Kherson regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said.

The Russian withdrawal marked a triumphant step in Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion of Moscow nearly nine months ago. Over the past two months, the Ukrainian army claimed to have taken over dozens of towns and villages north of the city of Kherson.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pledged to maintain pressure on Russian forces, reassuring residents of Ukrainian towns and villages still under occupation.

“We don’t forget anyone, we won’t abandon anyone,” he said.

Ukraine’s recapture of Kherson was a major setback for the Kremlin and the latest in a series of battlefield embarrassments. It came about six weeks after 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 comments from National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Sunday, who described the turnaround in Kherson as “an extraordinary victory” for Ukraine and “a truly remarkable thing.”

The reversal occurred despite Putin’s recent partial mobilization of reservists, increasing the number of troops by around 300,000. This has been difficult for the Russian military to digest.

General views of Kherson after the Russian retreat
A view of the damage after the Russian retreat from Kherson as the Russo-Ukrainian War continues on November 13, 2022.

Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“Russia’s military leadership is largely trying and failing to integrate combat forces from many different organizations and many different types and levels of skills and equipment into a more cohesive combat force in Ukraine,” the Institute commented. Washington-based war study. , a think tank that follows the conflict.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the Kremlin would be “worried” about the loss of Kherson, but warned against underestimating Moscow. “If they need more cannon fodder, that’s what they’ll do,” he said.

Ukrainian police have called on residents to help identify collaborators with Russian forces. Ukrainian police returned to the city on Saturday, along with public broadcasting services. Ukraine’s national police chief Ihor Klymenko said around 200 officers were at work in the city, setting up checkpoints and documenting evidence of possible war crimes.

In what could be the next district to fall in Ukraine’s march on territory annexed by Moscow, the Russian-appointed administration of Kakhovka district, east of the city of Kherson, announced on Saturday that she evacuated her employees.

“Today the administration is the number one target of Ukrainian attacks,” said Moscow-based Kakhovka chief Pavel Filipchuk. “We, as an authority, are moving to safer territory, from where we will lead the district.”

Kakhovka is located on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River, upstream from the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station.


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