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


Kyiv, Ukraine
CNN

Ukrainian forces stormed the key city of Kherson on Friday as Russian forces retreated eastward, handing a major victory to Kyiv and the biggest blow to President Vladimir Putin since the start of his offensive. .

Excited citizens who had survived months of Russian occupation descended on Kherson’s main square, hugging the newly arrived Ukrainian soldiers, taking selfies with them, and waving Ukrainian flags.

Footage of the joyous scenes emerged hours after Russia announced it had withdrawn from the western bank of the Dnipro River in the strategic southern region of Kherson, handing over the regional capital Kherson and surrounding areas to the Ukrainians.

The withdrawal is a major setback for Putin’s war effort in Ukraine. Kherson was the only regional capital of Ukraine to be captured by Russian forces after the February invasion. Their withdrawal east of the Dnipro leaves behind a large swath of land that Russia has occupied since the early days of the war, and that Putin formally declared as Russian territory just five weeks ago. was

“Ukrainian flag is high in Kherson city. From now on all buildings in Kherson will have Ukrainian flag. This is what we have dreamed of since the first days of occupation,” said Serhiy, a member of the Kherson regional council of Ukraine. Khlan said.

On Friday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a video of nighttime events in the city of Kherson, where a crowd waved flags and chanted “ZSU,” the Ukrainian acronym for the Armed Forces.

He called it a “historic day” for Ukraine. “We are returning the south of our country, we are returning Kherson.”

“So far, our guards are on the outskirts of the city. Just a little more to go and we will enter. But special units are already in the city,” Zelinsky said.

Zelensky appealed to Russian troops on the West Bank to surrender.

“We guarantee that you will be treated according to the law and international standards. And to those Russian soldiers who are hiding somewhere disguised in civilian clothes, I want to say that you cannot hide. We you. will be found anyway,” he said.

Ukrainian forces advanced across much of the Kherson region on Friday, apparently encountering little or no resistance. Social media videos from towns and villages across the region’s West Bank show soldiers being greeted by civilians.

A crowd cheers and chants as they surround a car with Ukrainian soldiers in Kherson's main square on Friday.

As of Friday morning, residents in the Russian-held city of Kherson were flying Ukrainian flags.

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

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“In the Kherson direction, the transfer of Russian military units to the left bank of the Dnieper River was completed at 0500. [Moscow time] This morning,” the ministry said on its official Telegram channel, using the Russian spelling for river.

“Not a single piece of military equipment or weapons was left behind on the right. [west] Bank,” the statement added. “All Russian troops have moved to the left bank of the Dnieper.”

Social media videos suggest otherwise, with Russian tanks, armored vehicles and ammunition crates being displayed by Ukrainian troops.

Ukraine has asserted that it carried out strikes against a number of Russian troops who were evacuating, but the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement later on Friday that the “enemy has attempted to disrupt the movement of Russian troops.” Despite the efforts, there was no loss of personnel, weapons, military equipment and supplies were allowed.

He also claimed that the Ukrainian advance had been halted for several days, and that “manpower and military equipment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the right bank of the Dnieper are coming under fire.”

Ukraine did not report any fire from the east bank on Friday but said a missile attack on the town of Mykolaiv, near the border with Kherson, killed seven people early on Friday.

Earlier on Friday, the Ukrainian military’s Southern Operational Command said Russian forces across the river were “immediately loading into boats deemed suitable for crossing and attempting to escape”.

It was not clear whether all Russian troops had withdrawn from Kherson and the wider area. Khalan said the city was “almost under the control of the armed forces of Ukraine” but warned that some Russian troops had remained behind in civilian clothes.

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

“They will plan provocations, false flag operations in the city,” he said. “There is still a lot of work to be done to de-clutter and clean up the city.” Residents of the city of Kherson with whom CNN spoke in recent weeks confirmed that many Russian soldiers are wearing civilian clothing.

Ukraine’s military said it would advance cautiously from the Kherson region, warning that Russian troops were mining roads and destroying critical infrastructure as they retreated from the region.

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The spokesman for the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Oleksandr Shtopin, said the Russian attackers were continuing to loot settlements from which they were retreating. “The enemy is also trying to damage power lines, other transport and critical infrastructure in Kherson area.”

Photos and video circulating on social media on Friday also showed that the Antonivskyi bridge over the Dnipro in the Kherson region had been destroyed.

Satellite images and other images from Maxar Technologies show that a total of at least seven bridges, four of which cross the Dnipro River, have been destroyed in the past 24 hours.

Among those destroyed were two bridges, a carriage and a railroad, which sat atop a dam at Nova Kakhuvka.

According to satellite images obtained by CNN from Maxer Technologies, water is flowing through the three sluice gates of the fragile dam, which spans the Dnipro River.

It is not clear how the latest damage, which is near the West Bank, was caused. Local Telegram channels reported explosions around the dam on Thursday night. Ukrainian forces do not appear to have taken control of the dam, which could cause significant damage in the region if breached.

Alexander Kots, a reporter for Komsomolskaya Pravda, a pro-government tabloid embedded with Russian forces, posted a video on his Telegram channel of a man standing at the crossing, showing that the main part of the bridge had been destroyed. “Behind me are two collapsed bridge spans,” Coates said. “They were likely blown up during the withdrawal of forces from the right flank of the Russian group to the left,” or from the western flank to the eastern flank.

The entire main part of the bridge seems to have been destroyed.

Russian forces have ceded about 40 percent of the Kherson region, which stretches to the Dnipro, in a matter of days.

Now that Ukrainian forces have recaptured Kherson up to the Dnipro River, the two sides face each other across the river about 250 kilometers – from the area around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to the Black Sea. to the edge

After Russian forces fled, Ukrainian troops advanced in their wake, capturing dozens of villages and settlements in the Kherson region above the Dnipro.

The Ukrainian army recaptured another part of the Kherson region on Friday, the village of Tehnka near the strategic town of Nova Kakhivka, despite Russian forces destroying the village’s bridges.

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A video circulating on social media on Friday, geo-located and confirmed by CNN, shows Ukrainian forces being greeted by residents on the main highway in Tihanka. The village is just 14 miles (20 km) west of the hydroelectric dam and bridges that span the Dnipro River at Nova Kakhivka.

Geolocation and multiple photos verified by CNN show that Ukrainian forces managed to enter the village despite the destruction of the main highway bridge and a pedestrian bridge after the Russians retreated. Dozens of bridges in the Kherson area have been destroyed or disabled during the clashes.

Residents of the town of Blozerka, on the western outskirts of the city of Kherson, raised the Ukrainian flag and tore down Russian propaganda billboards on Friday, according to videos on social media via CNN Geolocation.

One video shows a Ukrainian flag being raised at a World War II memorial, while another shows residents tearing down a propaganda billboard depicting a young girl holding a Russian flag, which reads : “Russia is here forever.”

Scenes across the region of people saluting Ukrainian troops were in stark contrast to claims by Russian-appointed officials in Kherson six weeks ago that 87 percent of voters there supported integration into the Russian Federation in a referendum that was widely condemned by the world. The community was widely condemned. Sharm Kherson was one of four Ukrainian regions illegally annexed by Russia in September.

Officials in Kyiv had warned that Russian troop withdrawals could turn the regional capital into a “city of death” en route to Kherson, and an official in southern Ukraine warned residents on Friday that they were at risk. Be careful not to return too soon to a recently liberated area. of the ears

“There are a lot of mines in the liberated areas and settlements,” Vitaly Kim, head of the military administration of the Mykolaiv region, said on Telegram. “Don’t go there for no reason. There have been casualties.”

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

“This is a matter for the Russian Federation,” Dmitry Peskov said during a regular briefing with journalists. “This is legally settled and defined. There can be no change.”

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

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

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