Ukrainian troops enter Kherson city after Russia retreats

Ukrainian forces have entered the western edge of Kherson city, according to images on social media geolocated by CNN, following the retreat of Russian troops.
The arrival of Ukraine’s military in the regional capital Friday comes after Russia withdrew from the region west of the Dnipro River, marking one of the biggest military setbacks for the Kremlin since the war began.

In the images, Ukrainian troops can be seen surrounded by residents in Kherson city’s Shumenskyi district. Citizens have also flooded the city’s central square, waving and raising Ukrainian flags, in other images geolocated by CNN.

Volunteers and paramedics carry an elderly evacuee from Kherson into a hall upon evacuees arrival to Dzhankoi, Crimea, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered a troop withdrawal from Kherson and nearby areas on Wednesday after his top general in Ukraine reported that a loss of supply routes during Ukraine’s southern counteroffensive made a defence “futile”. (AP)

In a statement carried by Russia’s state news agencies, the ministry said the withdrawal was completed at 5am on Friday (2pm AEDT), and not a single unit of military equipment was left behind.

The Kremlin remained defiant Friday, insisting the retreat in no way represented an embarrassment for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Moscow continues to view the Kherson region as part of Russia. He added that the Kremlin doesn’t regret holding festivities just over a month ago to celebrate the illegal annexation of Kherson and three other Ukrainian regions.

Areas the Russian military departed from included the city of Kherson – the only regional capital Moscow seized during its 8.5 month invasion of Ukraine – after Moscow ordered a partial retreat from the region Wednesday.

A local Ukrainian official in the region told CNN Friday that he could “neither confirm nor deny” whether Russian forces have withdrawn from Kherson city.

“We’re keeping the ‘information silence’ mode,” said Yuriy Sobolevskyi, first deputy head of Ukraine’s Kherson regional council.

“We do not comment on Ukrainian military movement or the enemy military movement.”

Sobolevskyi also declined to confirm the veracity of the social media images of the Ukrainian flag in Kherson city centre.

“I cannot confirm that is a real photo,” he said. “But I can say that it is the Svobody square (freedom square), where all the rallies against occupation took place. The Resistance movement was there in Kherson all the time, since occupation began. People have shown their patriotic attitude with patriotic graffiti, ribbons, flags etc.”

Ukrainian residents of a town on the western outskirts of Kherson city have raised a Ukrainian flag and ripped down Russian propaganda billboards, according to videos on social media geolocated by CNN.

The videos are from the town of Bilozerka, around 10 kilometers (6 miles) west of Kherson city.

Metro train runs on the bridge over Dnipro river in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, November 11, 2022.
Metro train runs on the bridge over Dnipro river in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, November 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko)

One video shows a Ukrainian flag flying over a World War II memorial. Another shows residents tearing down a propaganda billboards with a young girl holding a Russian flag, which read: “Russia is here forever.”

Images and video on social media Friday also showed that the Antonivskyi Bridge, the main conduit over the Dnipro in the Kherson region, had been destroyed.

Alexander Kots, a reporter for the Russian pro-government tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda embedded with Russian forces, posted a video on his Telegram channel standing on the crossing, showing the entire center section of the bridge destroyed.

“Behind me are the two collapsed spans of (the) bridge,” Kots said. “They were likely blown up during the withdrawal of the Russian group of forces from the right bank to the left,” or western bank to eastern bank.

Shortly before the Russian announcement, the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the situation in the Kherson region as “difficult.”

It reported Russian shelling of some of the villages and towns Ukrainian forces reclaimed in recent weeks during their counteroffensive in the Kherson region.

Ukrainian officials were wary of the Russian pullback announced this week, fearing their soldiers could get drawn into an ambush in Kherson city, which had a prewar population of 280,000. Military analysts also had predicted it would take Russia’s military at least a week to complete the troop withdrawal.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Thursday that the retreating Russian troops laid mines throughout Kherson to turn it into a “city of death.” He also predicted they would shell the city after relocating across the Dnieper River.

The state of the key Antonivskiy Bridge that links the western and eastern banks of the Dnieper in the Kherson region remained unclear Friday, and could be key in determining whether the Russians have in fact all left Kherson city.

Russian army soldiers stand next to their trucks during a rally against Russian occupation in Svobody (Freedom) Square in Kherson, Ukraine, Monday, March 7, 2022. (AP Photo, File) (AP)

Russian media reports suggested the bridge was blown up following the Russian withdrawal; pro-Kremlin reporters posted footage of the bridge missing a large section. But Sergei Yeliseyev, a Russian-installed official in the Kherson region, told the Interfax news agency that “the Antonivskiy Bridge hasn’t been blown up, it’s in the same condition.”

Recapturing the city could provide Ukraine a launching pad for supplies and troops to try to win back other lost territory in the south, including Crimea, which Moscow seized in 2014.

From its forces new positions on the eastern bank, however, the Kremlin could try to escalate the war, which US assessments showed may already have killed or wounded tens of thousands of civilians and hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

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