Ukrainian troops enter Kherson, met with joy as Russia abandons city

Click to play video: 'Ukrainian troops reclaim Kherson, Russian forces retreat'
Ukrainian troops reclaim Kherson, Russian forces retreat
WATCH: People in Kherson are cheering as Ukraine retakes control of the city, while Russian forces withdraw. Eric Sorensen looks at the celebrations, the shift in momentum for Ukrainian troops, and what Russia's retreat means for the war – Nov 11, 2022

Ukrainian troops were greeted by joyous residents in the centre of Kherson on Friday after Russia abandoned the only regional capital it had captured since its invasion in February.

Russia said it had completed the pullout across the Dnipro River without losing a single soldier, but Ukrainians painted a picture of a chaotic retreat, with Russian troops ditching their uniforms or drowning while trying to escape.

“Today is a historic day. We are in the process of taking Kherson back,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address Friday. Other Ukrainian forces were stationed on the approaches to the city, he added.

Video footage circulating on the internet showed dozens of Ukrainians cheering and chanting victory slogans in Kherson’s central square, where the apparent first Ukrainian troops to arrive snapped selfies in the crowd.

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Two men lifted a female soldier on their shoulders and tossed her into the air. Some residents wrapped themselves in Ukrainian flags. One man was weeping with joy.

Ukraine’s defence intelligence agency said Kherson was returning to Ukrainian control and ordered any remaining Russian troops to surrender to Ukrainian forces entering the city.

As Ukrainian forces surged forward during one of the most rapid and humiliating Russian retreats of the war, villagers came out of hiding to describe months under occupation of Russian troops they said had killed residents and looted homes.

At the newly recaptured village of Blahodatne, 20 kilometre north of Kherson, Ukrainian soldiers were taking over positions dug by the Russians. At the entrance of the village, Ukrainian troops looked over a large stockpile of 120 mm mortar shells abandoned by the Russians in a dilapidated warehouse.

Click to play video: 'Biden says it ‘remains to be seen’ if Ukraine will compromise with Russia as it evacuates Kherson'
Biden says it ‘remains to be seen’ if Ukraine will compromise with Russia as it evacuates Kherson

Reuters could not immediately verify the full extent of the Ukrainian advance or the fate of any Russian soldiers left behind as Moscow rushed to pull thousands of troops across the wide Dnipro River.

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Serhiy Khlan, a member of Ukraine’s regional council for Kherson, said the regional capital was now almost fully under the control of Ukrainian forces, with a Ukrainian flag hoisted over its administrative building by partisans.

A large number of Russian soldiers had drowned in the river trying to escape and others had changed into civilian clothing, he said, advising residents not to leave their homes while searches for remaining Russian troops took place.

Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military’s southern command, said Russian troops “have been changing into civilian clothes for two weeks.”

“It means saboteur operations cannot be ruled out,” she told a separate briefing.

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Earlier, the Russian defence ministry said it had finished its withdrawal from the western bank of the Dnipro river, where Kherson city lies, just two days after Moscow announced the retreat.

“Not a single unit of military equipment or weapons have been left on the right (western) bank. All Russian servicemen crossed to the left bank,” it added, saying that Russia had not suffered any loss of personnel or equipment during the withdrawal.

Pro-Russian war bloggers had reported late on Thursday that Russian forces crossing the river were coming under heavy fire from Ukrainian forces. The Russian ministry said Ukrainian forces had struck Dnipro River crossings five times overnight with U.S.-supplied HIMARS rocket systems.

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Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov had told Reuters on Thursday it would take at least a week for Russia to pull out of Kherson. He estimated Russia still had 40,000 troops in the region, and said intelligence showed its forces remained in and around the city.

Click to play video: 'NATO Secretary General reacts to news of Russian retreat from Kherson'
NATO Secretary General reacts to news of Russian retreat from Kherson


There was no sign of Russian forces when Reuters reached Blahodatne. Relieved villagers recounted life under occupation, saying about 100 Russians had held the village for eight months. The Russians had withdrawn without a fight on Wednesday and Ukrainian troops moved in on Thursday, they said.

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The Russians had killed a man who had approached too close to their trenches and taken away two other men and a young woman whose fate remained unknown, the villagers said.

“For the first two months they came in and were extremely aggressive,” said Serhii Kalko, 43, adding that Russian soldiers fired in the air as they walked down the streets.

The Russian troops had also broken into vacant homes and looted them, removing furniture, televisions, stoves and refrigerators, the villagers said.

“The Russians were stealing everything. Everything they could take they took,” a woman named Halyna, 50, recounted. “We tried not to be in their sights,” she said, adding that only about 60 of approximately 1,000 residents had remained.

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The withdrawal from Kherson is the third major Russian retreat of the war, and the first to involve abandoning such a large occupied city. Moscow’s forces were driven in March from the outskirts of the capital Kyiv and ousted from the northeastern region of Kharkiv in September.

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Kherson province is one of four that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed from Ukraine in late September. The loss of the regional capital would appear to end dreams expressed by some Russians of seizing Ukraine’s entire Black Sea coast, although Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the region’s annexed status remained unchanged.

The only road route near Kherson across the river, the already damaged Antonivskiy bridge, collapsed. Russian military bloggers said it was probably blown up as Russian troops withdrew.

The Russian defence ministry said it had adopted “defensive lines and positions” on the eastern bank of the river, which Moscow hopes it will be able to better supply and defend.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the decision to retreat was taken by the defence ministry. Asked by reporters if it was humiliating for Putin, Peskov said: “No.”

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