MYKOLAIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian police officers returned Saturday, with television and radio services, to the southern city of Kherson after the withdrawal of Russian troops, as part of a quick but cautious effort to make the only regional capital captured by Russia. month of occupancy. Yet one official still described the city as “a humanitarian disaster.”
People across Ukraine woke up to a night of jubilant celebration after the Kremlin announced that its troops had withdrawn across the Dnieper from Kherson. Ukraine’s military said it was overseeing “stabilization measures” around the town to ensure it was safe.
READ MORE: Ukraine says special military units have entered Kherson and Russian troops have completely withdrawn from the city
The Russian retreat represented a major setback for the Kremlin 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 removed them. declared Russian territory.
Ukraine’s national police chief Ihor Klymenko said on Facebook on Saturday that around 200 officers were at work in the city, setting up checkpoints and documenting evidence of possible war crimes. Police teams were also working to identify and neutralize unexploded ordnance and a sapper was injured Saturday while clearing an administrative building, Klymenko said.
Ukraine’s communications watchdog said national television and radio broadcasts had resumed in the city, and an adviser to the mayor of Kherson said humanitarian aid and supplies had started arriving from the neighboring region. from Mykolaiv.
But the adviser, Roman Holovnya, described the situation in Kherson as a “humanitarian catastrophe”. He said the remaining residents lacked water, medicine and food – and basic items like bread were not baked due to the lack of electricity.
“The occupiers and collaborators did everything to ensure that the people who remained in the city suffered as much as possible during these days, weeks, months of waiting” for the arrival of Ukrainian forces, Holovnya said. “The water supply is practically non-existent.”
The chairman of Khersonoblenergo, the region’s pre-war electricity supplier, said electricity was returned “to every settlement in the Kherson region immediately after liberation”.
Despite efforts to restore normal civilian life, Russian forces remain nearby. The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Saturday that the Russians were fortifying their battle lines on the east bank of the river after abandoning the capital. About 70% of the Kherson region remains under Russian control.
Ukrainian officials since President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have warned that while special military units have reached Kherson, a full deployment to reinforce forward troops in the city is still underway. Ukraine’s intelligence agency believed some Russian soldiers may have stayed behind, ditching their uniforms to avoid detection.
LOOK: Ukrainian forces advance cautiously towards Kherson, fearing a trap as Russian troops retreat
“Even when the city is not yet completely cleared of the presence of the enemy, the inhabitants of Kherson themselves are already removing from the streets and buildings Russian symbols and all traces of the stay of the occupiers in Kherson,” said Zelenskyy in his nightly video speech.
Zelenskyy said the first part of the stabilization work includes demining operations. He said the entry of “our defenders” – the soldiers – into Kherson would be followed by police, sappers, rescuers and energy workers, among others.
“Medicine, communications, social services are coming back,” he said. “Life returns.”
Photos on social media on Saturday showed Ukrainian activists removing commemorative plaques installed by the occupation authorities that the Kremlin installed to rule the Kherson region. A Telegram post on Yellow Ribbon, a self-proclaimed Ukrainian “public resistance” movement, showed two people in a park removing plaques depicting Soviet-era military figures.
Moscow’s announcement that Russian forces were withdrawing across the Dnieper River, which divides both the Kherson region and Ukraine, followed a strengthened Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south of the country. Over the past two months, the Ukrainian military claimed to have recaptured dozens of towns and villages north of the city of Kherson, and the military said that was where stabilization activities were taking place.
Russian state news agency Tass quoted a Kherson Kremlin-appointed administration official as saying on Saturday that Henichesk, a city on the Sea of Azov 200 kilometers southeast of Kherson, would now serve as the “temporary capital” of the region.
Ukrainian media derided the announcement, with the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper saying Russia “has established a new capital” for the region.
Across much of Ukraine, moments of jubilation marked the exit of Russian forces, as a retreat from Kherson and other areas on the west bank of the Dnieper would appear to dash Russian hopes of pushing a westward offensive. towards Mykolaiv and Odessa to cut Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea.
READ MORE: Russia had ‘no choice’ but to flee key city of Kherson, Ukraine says
In Odessa, the Black Sea port, residents draped themselves in the blue and yellow flags of Ukraine, shared champagne and waved cards in the colors of the flag with the word “Kherson” on them.
But like Zelenskyy, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba sought to temper the excitement.
“We are winning battles on the ground, but the war continues,” he said from Cambodia, where he was attending a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Kuleba raised the prospect of the Ukrainian military finding evidence of possible Russian war crimes in Kherson, just as it did after Russian withdrawals in the Kyiv and Kharkiv regions.
“Every time we liberate a part of our territory, when we enter a city liberated from the Russian army, we find torture rooms and mass graves with civilians tortured and murdered by the Russian army during the war. occupation,” said the head of Ukrainian diplomacy. “It’s not easy to talk to people like that. But I said that every war ends in diplomacy and that Russia must approach the talks in good faith.
US assessments this week showed that Russia’s war in Ukraine may have already killed or injured tens of thousands of civilians and hundreds of thousands of troops.
Elsewhere, Russia continued its brutal offensive in Ukraine’s industrial east, targeting the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, the Ukrainian General Staff said.
Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko reported on Saturday that two civilians had been killed and four injured in the past day as fighting intensified around Bakhmut and Avdiivka, a small town still in Ukrainian hands.
Russia’s push to capture Bakhmut demonstrates the Kremlin’s desire for visible gains after weeks of setbacks. It would also pave the way for other Ukrainian strongholds in the hotly contested Donetsk region.
In the Dnipropetrovsk region, west of Donetsk, Russian troops again shelled communities near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the Ukrainian regional governor said.