Ukraine strives to stabilize Kherson after Russian withdrawal

Ukraine’s military on Saturday implemented ‘stabilization measures’ near the southern city of Kherson after the end of an eight-month occupation by Russian forces, a retreat that cast a further veil over the president’s plans Vladimir Putin to take control of large parts of Ukraine.

Residents of Kherson, the only regional capital captured by the Russian military in the ongoing invasion, woke up to a night of jubilant celebration that erupted in the city and surrounding areas after the Kremlin announced that its troops had withdrawn across the Dnieper.

In a regular social media update on Saturday, the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said the Russians 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 Zelenskyy 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 Zelenskyy 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 recaptured dozens of towns and villages north of the city of Kherson, and the Ukrainian General Staff said that was where the activities of stabilization.

The Russian retreat represented a major setback for the Kremlin about six weeks after Putin annexed the Kherson region and three other provinces in southern and eastern Ukraine in violation of international law and in the face of widespread condemnation. The Russian leader unequivocally asserted the areas illegally claimed as Russian territory.

Russian state news agency TASS quoted a Kremlin-appointed Kherson administration official as saying on Saturday that Henichesk, a city on the Sea of ​​Azov about 200 kilometers 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.

Like Zelenskyy, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba sought to temper the excitement over the latest morale boost for the invaded nation. “We are winning battles on the ground, but the war continues,” he said from Cambodia, where he was attending a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Kuleba also raised the possibility of the Ukrainian military finding evidence of possible Russian war crimes in Kherson, just as it did after the Russian Defense Ministry withdrew its forces from the Kyiv and Kyiv regions. Kharkiv earlier.

“Every time we liberate a part of our territory, when we enter a city liberated from the Russian army, we find torture rooms and mass graves with civilians tortured and murdered by the Russian army during the war. occupation of these territories”, declared the head of Ukrainian diplomacy. said. “It’s not easy to talk with people like that. But I said that every war ends with diplomacy and Russia must approach the talks in good faith. US assessments this week showed that the Russia’s war in Ukraine may have already killed or injured tens of thousands of civilians and hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

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 heavily contested region of Donetsk. A reinvigorated eastern offensive could also potentially stall or derail Kyiv’s ongoing advances in the south.

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.” (AP) MRJ

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Christi C. Elwood