War in Ukraine: President Volodymyr Zelensky visits Kherson in person after city liberated

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky called the Russian withdrawal from Kherson “the beginning of the end of the war” as he met soldiers in the southern city.

The liberation of Kherson after a grinding offensive that forced Russia to pull back its forces from the city is one of Ukraine’s biggest success so far of the nearly nine-month invasion and a stinging blow for the Kremlin.

Mr Zelensky said the country’s “strong army” was persistently reclaiming the territories taken by Russia since its invasion while also acknowledging the difficulties and the heavy human toll.

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The Ukrainian army has now reclaimed three major areas of the country in its counteroffensives – the area north of Kyiv, the north-eastern region of Kharkiv and now Kherson and many neighbouring settlements.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky gives a speech to the media in Kherson. Picture: AP Photo/Bernat Armangue
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Mr Zelensky visited the newly liberated city on Monday. He was photographed posing with troops in a central Kherson square.

The visit came as Mr Zelensky accused Russian forces of having committed “the same atrocities as in other regions of our country” before they were forced to pull out from Kherson and its surrounds.

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In his nightly video address on Sunday, Mr Zelensky said without details that “investigators have already documented more than 400 Russian war crimes, and the bodies of both civilians and military personnel have been found”.

“In the Kherson region, the Russian army left behind the same atrocities as in other regions of our country,” he said. “We will find and bring to justice every murderer, without a doubt.”

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The end of Russia’s eight-month occupation of Kherson city has sparked days of celebration, but also exposed a humanitarian emergency, with residents living without power and water and short of food and medicines. Russia still controls about 70 per cent of the wider Kherson region.

Mr Zelensky said Russian soldiers who were left behind when their military commanders abandoned the city last week are being detained. He also spoke, again without details, of the “neutralisation of saboteurs”.

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Ukrainian police have called on residents to help identify people who collaborated with Russian forces.

Mr Zelensky urged people in the liberated zone to also be alert for booby traps, saying: “Please, do not forget that the situation in the Kherson region is still very dangerous. First of all, there are mines. Unfortunately, one of our sappers was killed, and four others were injured while clearing mines.”

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And he promised that essential services would be restored.

“We are doing everything to restore normal technical capabilities for electricity and water supply as soon as possible,” he said.

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“We will bring back transport and post. Let’s bring back an ambulance and normal medicine. Of course, the restoration of the work of authorities, the police, and some private companies are already beginning.”

Residents said departing Russian troops plundered the city, carting away loot as they withdrew last week. They also wrecked key infrastructure before retreating across the wide Dnieper River to its east bank.

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One Ukrainian official described the situation in Kherson as “a humanitarian catastrophe”.

Reconnecting the electricity supply is the priority, with gas supplies already assured, Kherson regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said.

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Ukraine’s retaking of Kherson was the latest in a series of battlefield embarrassments for the Kremlin. It came some six weeks after Russian president Vladimir Putin annexed the Kherson region and three other provinces.

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