November 11, 2022
Here’s what we know:
People in Kherson had hung the Ukrainian flag as they awaited their troops in the city.
- Ukrainian forces enter Kherson City as Russia says its retreat is complete.
- Outside Kherson, abandoned clothes, food and ammunition are signs of a hasty Russian withdrawal.
- Why is control of Kherson so important?
- An explosion on a crucial Kherson bridge severed the city’s last major crossing.
- In battered Mykolaiv, a Russian strike kills 7.
BLAHODATNE, Ukraine — Ukraine’s troops entered the key city of Kherson on Friday, its military said, as jubilant residents waved Ukrainian flags after a major Russian retreat.
The move puts Kyiv on the cusp of achieving one of its most significant victories of the war and deals a bitter blow to President Vladimir V. Putin, who just a month ago declared Kherson a part of Russia forever.
Videos shared by Ukrainian government officials on social media showed scenes of civilians who had endured nearly nine months of occupation cheering the arrival of a contingent of Ukrainian troops. Earlier in the morning Russia had said that the withdrawal of its forces across the Dnipro River was complete.
“Kherson is returning under the control of Ukraine, units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are entering the city,” the Ukrainian military intelligence agency said in a statement. The military later warned Russia was preparing to strike the city from new positions across the river.
The few residents who remain in Kherson have endured curfews, shortages of goods, partisan warfare and an intense campaign to force them to become Russian citizens and accept Moscow’s warped version of their culture and history.
The depth of their suffering has yet to come into focus. For months, residents interviewed by journalists have told stories of friends being abducted, children illegally deported, relatives tortured and killed. Evidence of human rights abuses has surfaced when Russian have pulled out elsewhere.
The loss of Kherson would be Russia’s third major setback of the war, following retreats from Kyiv, the capital, last spring, and from the Kharkiv region in the northeast in September. Kherson was the only provincial capital Russia had captured since invading in February, and it was a major link in Russia’s effort to control the southern coastline along the Black Sea.
Recapturing Kherson bolsters the Ukrainian government’s argument that it should press on militarily while it has Russian forces on the run, and not return to the bargaining table, as some American officials have advocated.
The dramatic scenes in Kherson came less than 48 hours after Russia’s defense minister announced that Russian troops in the city would withdraw.
Even as its soldiers fled, the Kremlin said that it still considered Kherson — which President Vladimir V. Putin illegally annexed in September — to be a part of Russia.
“This is a Russian region,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, told reporters on Friday. “It has been legally fixed and defined. There can be no changes here.”
As he spoke, Ukrainian soldiers continued to move through towns and villages in the region, greeted joyously by tearful residents who had endured nine months occupation.
Oleh Voitsehovsky, the commander of a Ukrainian drone reconnaissance unit, said he had seen no Russian troops or equipment in his zone along the front less than four miles north of Kherson city.
“The Russians left all the villages,” he said. “We looked at dozens of villages with our drones and didn’t see a single car. We don’t see how they are leaving. They retreat quietly, at night.”
Residents described a harrowing night with multiple explosions, including one that destroyed a television transmission tower. Serhiy, a retiree living in the city who asked that his last name not be published for security reasons, said in a series of text messages that conditions in the city had unraveled overnight.
“At night, a building burned in the very center, but it was not possible even to call the fire department,” he wrote. “There was no phone signal, no electricity, no heating and no water.”
Anna Lukinova, Maria Varenikova and Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.