Russian forces destroyed critical infrastructure in the southern city of Kherson before withdrawing, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, as Kiev’s military regained control of the southeastern city.
“Before fleeing Kherson, the occupiers destroyed the entire critical infrastructure: communications, water, heat, electricity,” Zelenskyy said in a video speech on Saturday.
“[Russians] have the same goal everywhere: to humiliate people as much as possible. But we will restore everything, believe me,” he said.
Cheering residents greeted the troops who arrived in the city center on Friday after Russia gave up the only regional capital it had captured since the war began in February.
Ukrainian troops have regained control of more than 60 settlements in the Kherson region, Zelenskyi said, adding that nearly 2,000 mines, tripwires and unexploded shells have been cleared so far.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukraine was “winning battles on the ground. But the war goes on.”
Ukraine’s triumphant recapture of Kherson was hailed as an “extraordinary victory” by the United States.
“It is a great moment, and it is due to the incredible tenacity and skill of the Ukrainians, backed by the relentless and united support of the United States and our allies,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said while speaking with President Joe Biden a regional summit traveled to Cambodia.
“Most decisive” event of the war
Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from the Kherson region, said Moscow’s withdrawal was the “most crucial” event in the war so far.
“It has boosted the morale of Ukrainian soldiers who say … they now believe they can win this war.”
The head of Ukraine’s National Police, Ihor Klymenko, said around 200 officers were deployed in the city, setting up checkpoints and documenting evidence of possible war crimes.
He urged residents of Kherson to be alert to possible land mines laid by Russian troops and said a police officer was wounded while clearing an administrative building.
Officials also said humanitarian aid was being delivered to the city’s residents.
“The situation is very difficult because Russia has created unbearable conditions for the stay and life of people in Kherson. And before the withdrawal of Russian troops, Russia deliberately tried to create a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Oleksandr Merezhko, chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Ukrainian Parliament.
“The demining process has already begun and humanitarian aid has started to flow to the city. And we hope that within a month we will open post offices and give money, pensions and salaries to workers in Kherson,” he told Al Jazeera.
About 70 percent of the Kherson region remains under Moscow control, with Russian troops strengthening their battle lines on the east bank of the Dnieper, according to the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Russia established the Ukrainian city of Henichesk as the temporary administrative capital of the Kherson region after withdrawing from the city of Kherson.
Sergey Markov, a former adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told Al Jazeera that the loss of Kherson was a blow to Russia, but that Moscow’s mobilization meant this was Ukraine’s final victory.
“It’s really embarrassing for Russia. We used to believe that the Russian army is the second largest army in the world after the United States. Probably even equal to the United States. It’s depressing for the population, it’s depressing for the army, but we still believe that this is the last military victory of the Ukrainian army,” he said.
“The main reason is that Ukraine has a total military mobilization in the spring. Ukraine has five times less population than Russia, but the Ukrainian army is twice the size of the Russian army. But now this privilege for the Ukrainian army will be over because 300,000 mobilized Russians will come to the Russian army.”
The Kremlin, meanwhile, insisted that Kherson was still part of Russia and did not regret having annexed the entire Kherson region. Russia announced in September the annexation of four Ukrainian regions, including Kherson – a move that Kyiv has called illegal and Western countries have denounced.
Full Ukrainian recapture of the Kherson region would disrupt a vital land bridge for Russia between its mainland and the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.