By Gauri Patel
Ukrainian forces began advancing through the key city of Kherson on Nov. 11 as Russian forces retreated, signifying a major victory for Kyiv. They encountered little to no resistance as they reclaimed the city that had experienced months of Russian occupation, according to CNN. Kherson was the only regional capital that was captured by Moscow since the initial invasion in February.
The Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, ordered an estimated 30,000 troops to retreat from Kherson to the eastern bank of the Dnipro River on the recommendation of General Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russia’s forces in Ukraine, according to NPR.
Despite the announcement of their retreat, Ukrainian Defense Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, told Reuters in an interview that it would take a minimum of one week for all Russian forces to leave the city as an estimated 40,000 troops remain in the Kherson region.
Russia’s Defense Ministry announced on their official Telegram channel that forces have completed a partial withdrawal as of Nov. 11.
“In the Kherson direction, the move of Russian military units to the left bank of the Dnieper River was completed at 0500 [Moscow time] this morning,” Russia’s Defense ministry said. “Not a single piece of military equipment or weaponry was left behind on the right [west] bank.”
However, according to footage shared on social media, Russian tanks, vehicles and ammunition crates appear to remain. Ukrainian officials also warn the public of the possibility of there being mines in recently liberated territory. Additionally, there are reports that Russian troops have remained behind in civilian clothing as Ukrainian officials express concerns that they could be planning provocations, false-flag operations or an operation that involves intentionally pinning the blame of a disaster on another group, such as Ukraine itself.
In a video posted by Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses remaining Russian soldiers, urging them to surrender, as reported by CNN.
“We guarantee that you will be treated in accordance with the law and international standards,” Zelensky said. “And to those Russian military who disguised themselves in civilian clothes and are hiding somewhere, I want to say that you cannot hide. We will find you anyway.”
Thousands of mines, tripwires and unexploded shells have been left by withdrawing troops, leading Zelensky to accuse Russian soldiers of war crimes in Kherson, according to The Guardian. Critical infrastructure has been destroyed by Russian forces prior to their retreat. Satellite images released by Maxar Technologies showed at least seven bridges that have been destroyed, including main highway bridges, pedestrian bridges and the only bridge that connected Kherson city to the eastern bank of the Dnipro.
The Russian withdrawal has been presented as a strategic move by the military to conserve resources for other fronts, yet it marks one the biggest setbacks for Moscow since the beginning of the invasion. In Moscow, according to CNBC, pro-Kremlin commentators have described the move as humiliating. This comes after Putin said in September that the residents of Kherson will become Russian citizens forever. Russian-appointed officials claimed that 87% of voters in Kherson supported integration into the Russian Federation. This is a sharp contrast to the reactions of people as they greeted Ukrainian troops, according to CNN, especially taking into account how residents were left without water, power, or internet during the eight months of Russian occupation.
Residents of Bilozerska, a town on the western outskirts of Kherson City, were seen hoisting Ukraine’s flag and tearing down billboards containing Russian propaganda slogans, like “Russia is Here Forever,” in social media videos geolocated by CNN. Citizens descended upon the central square in Kherson City hugging the Ukrainian soldiers and taking photos with them. Crowds waved flags and chanted “ZSU” or the acronym for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
“Today is a historic day,” says Zelensky, in a video address. “We are returning the south of our country, we are returning Kherson.”