Ukrainian officials describe ‘tense and difficult’ situation in Kherson city, with Russian troops still present

Ukraine’s military said it recaptured swathes of territory from Kherson on Thursday after Moscow ordered a partial withdrawal from the region, although officials in Kyiv warned that retreating Russian soldiers could turn the regional capital into a a “city of death” when they leave.

A military spokesman said that in just 24 hours, Ukrainian forces had pushed the front line in the key southern region of Kherson by 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) and taken control of more than 260 square kilometers of territory (100 square miles). Kyiv said it had taken control of the towns of Snihurivka and Kyselivka, both located along the main roads leading to the city of Kherson, the regional capital. Kyselivka is located about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the city of Kherson.

Moscow said on Wednesday its troops would withdraw from the west bank of the Dnipro River, an area that includes the city of Kherson, in one of the biggest military setbacks for Russia since its invasion began. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said efforts began the following day.

Officials in Kyiv, however, treated the announcement with skepticism. Kherson is one of four Ukrainian regions that Russia has tried to annex in violation of international law, and some doubt that Moscow would give up the fight for territory populated by people that Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to be. Russian citizens “forever”.

Ukrainian officials also fear that the Russian military will adopt scorched earth tactics and leave behind a trail of devastation following its withdrawal. Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Thursday that Russia “wants to turn Kherson into a ‘city of death'”.

Ukrainian army spokesman Vladyslav Nazarov said Russian forces continued to shell areas taken over by the Ukrainian army and tried to hit distribution points for humanitarian aid.

However, signs of backsliding have begun to appear. General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Washington had seen the “beginnings” of a Russian withdrawal in Kherson. Satellite images taken last week of Russian-occupied Crimea showed trenches dug near the border with Kherson, a possible sign that Russian military leaders are worried about the progress of Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

Christi C. Elwood