The Ukrainian army on Saturday implemented “stabilization measures” near the southern city of Kherson after the end of an eight-month occupation by Russian forces.
People across Ukraine woke up from a night of jubilant celebrations after the Kremlin announced that its troops had withdrawn across the Dnieper from Kherson, the only regional capital captured by the Russian army during the current invasion.
In a regular social media update on Saturday, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said Russian forces 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 under President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that while special military units had reached the city of Kherson, a full deployment to reinforce forward troops was still underway.
On Friday, Ukraine’s intelligence agency said it believed some Russian soldiers remained behind, ditching their uniforms for civilian clothes to avoid detection.
“Even when the city is not yet completely cleared of the presence of the enemy, the inhabitants of Kherson themselves are already removing Russian symbols and all traces of the stay of the occupants in Kherson from the streets and buildings,” said Mr. Zelensky in his nightly video speech. Friday.
Photos circulating on social media on Saturday show Ukrainian activists removing memorial plaques installed by the occupation authorities that the Kremlin installed to rule the Kherson region.
A Telegram post on the Yellow Ribbon channel, a self-proclaimed Ukrainian “public resistance” movement, showed two people in a park removing plaques depicting what appeared to be Soviet-era military figures.
Moscow’s announcement that Russian forces planned to withdraw 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 army claimed to have recovered dozens of towns and villages north of the city of Kherson, and the Ukrainian General Staff said that is where the activities of stabilization.
The Russian retreat represented a major setback for the Kremlin some six weeks after Mr Putin annexed the Kherson region and three other provinces in southern and eastern Ukraine in violation of international law and in the face of condemnation widespread.
The Russian leader unequivocally asserted the areas illegally claimed as Russian territory.
Russian state news agency TASS quoted an official from the Kremlin-appointed Kherson administration on Saturday as saying that Henichesk, a city on the Sea of Azov about 200 km southeast of the city of Kherson, would serve as the “temporary capital” of the region after the withdrawal across the Dnieper.
Ukrainian media derided the announcement, with the daily Ukrainskaya Pravda saying that Russia “has established a new capital” for the region.
Despite advances in Kherson, other parts of Ukraine continued to suffer civilian casualties, energy shortages and other fallout from Russian military attacks and Mr. Putin’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian areas of Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia.
State-owned electricity grid operator Ukrenergo has announced emergency power cuts – which could last indefinitely – in eight regions, including Kyiv, where a Russian military strike hit an energy facility critical to supplying the capital .
Ukrenergo said scheduled hour-long blackouts, which are temporary and time-limited, would also continue daily in central and northern Ukraine.
Moscow has admitted to targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with drone and rocket strikes since early October. Ukrainian officials said last month that 40% of the country’s power system had been severely damaged.
While much of the focus was on southern Ukraine, Russia continued its massive offensive in industrial eastern Ukraine, targeting in particular the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, a said the Ukrainian General Staff.
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 that remained in the hands of the Ukrainians throughout the war.
Russia’s continued push for Bakhmut demonstrates the Kremlin’s desire for visible gains after weeks of clear setbacks. Taking the city would pave the way for a possible push towards other Ukrainian strongholds in the hotly contested region of Donetsk. A reinvigorated eastern offensive could also potentially stall or derail Kyiv’s ongoing advances in the south.
Mr Kyrylenko, in a Facebook post on Saturday, also pointed to Russia’s “intense shelling” overnight of two other towns under Ukrainian control: Lyman, near the border with neighboring Luhansk region, and Vuhledar, in southwest of the region controlled by the Donetsk separatists. capital of the same name.
Lugansk Governor Serhii Haidai said Ukrainian forces had recaptured 11 unnamed settlements in his province, but their advance was “not as fast as in other areas”.
“We congratulate Kherson on his return!” Mr. Haidai posted on Telegram. In Lugansk, “the occupiers continue to dig and gather reinforcements, mine all around them”.
In the Dnipropetrovsk region, west of Donetsk, Russia continued its shelling of communities near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the Ukrainian regional governor said. Russia and Ukraine have long swapped responsibility for the bombings in and around the plant, Europe’s largest.
Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, again stressed that the United States would defer to Ukrainian authorities whether or when to negotiate with Russia on a possible end to the conflict.
‘Russia has invaded Ukraine,’ Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One en route to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, as part of President Joe Biden’s trip to international summits in Southeast Asia .
“If Russia chose to stop fighting in Ukraine and leave, that would be the end of the war,” Sullivan said. “If Ukraine chose to stop fighting and give up, it would be the end of Ukraine.”