Kherson Liberated from Russian Occupation

Last week, Russia was dealt a major blow in their invasion of Ukraine, with the regional centre of Kherson reclaimed by Ukrainian forces. Residents rejoiced in the streets, singing national songs and celebrating the Ukrainian soldiers. Kherson was the only major city to fall into Russian hands, after they failed to take Kyiv early on.

Kherson, a provincial capital with a population of 300,000, was captured in March. It was occupied by Russian forces for eight long months. And just five weeks ago, Putin announced Kherson was part of Russia “for ever”, after sham referendums led to its annexation, alongside three other provinces.

Russia’s annexation of the separatist regions Donetsk and Luhansk still holds strong, as does its occupation of Zaporizhzhia. And approximately 70% of the wider Kherson region is under Russian control.

But last Friday, Russian soldiers finally withdrew from the regional capital after Ukraine’s protracted counteroffensives in the east and south of the country. The incoming Ukrainian troops were greeted by crowds of locals waving flags and triumphantly singing the national anthem. “When our Ukrainian boys arrived, I cried,” resident Lubov Kravchenko told the Guardian, “it was a wonderful moment.”

But though the mood was jubilant for many, there was also an undercurrent of exhaustion and trepidation. Much of the infrastructure in the city and surrounding towns has been destroyed; in some villages, not one shop, pharmacy or café was left undamaged by the retreating forces.

“This is what the Russian flag means – complete desolation,” said Ukrainian President Zelensky in an address after Kherson’s liberation. “There is no electricity, no communication, no internet, no television. The occupiers destroyed everything themselves – on purpose.”

He also alleged that investigators had already found evidence “more than 400 war crimes” in the liberated areas. Mass graves, some containing bodies traumatised by torture, have been found in a number of locations across Ukraine after Russian withdrawal – most notably in Bucha and Kharkiv.

A UN commission completed in October concurred that war crimes had been committed in Ukraine, and that Russian troops were responsible for the “vast majority” of these violations.

NATO’s Secretary-General was also apprehensive, warning troops not to underestimate Russia. “Putin’s aim is to leave Ukraine cold and dark this winter,” said Jens Stoltenberg, “So we must stay the course.”

Still, Kherson’s liberation is certainly cause for celebration. At this moment, at least, the war seems to be cautiously turning toward Ukraine’s favour.

Zelensky echoed this sentiment, calling the re-taking of Kerson the “beginning of the end of the war.”

“Ukraine will come to all its people. Due to our strength on the battlefield and in diplomacy, we will restore the territorial integrity of our state.”

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