As Kherson residents continued to celebrate the withdrawal of Russian troops from the southern Ukrainian port city, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russian soldiers who set up defenses outside the city and left mines behind in their escape still faced danger.
“It is now very important to tell all residents of Kherson that they should be careful and not try to independently inspect buildings and items left behind by the occupiers,” the Ukrainian leader said in his late-night address on Saturday. “Please, dear citizens of Kherson, be careful and inform the police or emergency services of any suspicious objects you see.”
Mr Zelensky’s request reflected Ukrainian concerns that some Russian soldiers were still in the area, fortifying defensive positions across the Dnipro River, and that it was unclear whether they would fight, flee or surrender. Ukrainian military officials said that some Russian soldiers in and around the city of Kherson were still actively fighting with Ukrainian forces and that the city remained vulnerable to Russian artillery fire.
Ukrainian officials cleared more than 2,000 explosive devices, mines, tripwires and unexploded munitions, Zelenskyy said. Ten bomb squads are active in the area and one soldier was wounded on the job, he added.
Kherson, a major Black Sea port and gateway to the occupied Crimea peninsula, was the first major city to fall to Russian forces after they began their February 24 invasion. Their retreat has cheered the city’s residents as Ukraine reclaims its territory in the south of the country. Zelenskyy said Kiev controls more than 60 settlements around Kherson.
But amid the celebrations, focus shifted to a devastating humanitarian crisis in Kherson, a city with a pre-war population of hundreds of thousands that has been left without basic services.
“Before fleeing Kherson, the occupiers destroyed all critical infrastructure – communications, water supply, heat, electricity,” Zelenskyy said. “But we will restore everything.”
Food and medicine were also in short supply, but local officials said they were awaiting humanitarian aid from the southern city of Mykolayiv and other nearby areas. Cherson’s current population has shrunk to about 80,000, the city’s mayor Roman Golovnya told a local TV station.
Another pledge came from the head of Ukraine’s railways, Oleksandr Kamyshin, who said crews will repair damaged tracks and wagons. “A train to Kherson will start soon,” he said on the social network Telegram, without giving details.
Ukrainian officials also said they had restored television and radio service. “We are currently broadcasting only one channel of Ukrainian television and radio because our main task was to provide Ukrainians with access to information as soon as possible,” said an official with the State Information Service Serhiy Semerey.
Concerns also grew on the outskirts of Kherson, where satellite imagery showed a dam about 40 miles northeast in the town of Nova Kakhovka was damaged Thursday through Friday as Russian forces retreated.
For weeks, Ukrainians and Russians have accused the other side of wanting to damage the dam. But Ukrainians said they had no incentive to flood their own country and accused Moscow of preparing a “false flag” operation to blow up the dam itself. Damage to the reservoir, which holds about as much water as Utah’s Great Salt Lake, could flood as many as 80 towns, cities, towns and cities, including Kherson.
Markus Santora contributed reporting.