Sun. Dec 4th, 2022

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a triumphant visit to the newly liberated city of Kherson on Monday, hailing Russia’s withdrawal as “the beginning of the end of the war” but also acknowledging the high price Ukrainian soldiers are paying in their hard-fought efforts to push back the invading force.

The recapture of Kherson was one of Ukraine’s biggest successes in the nearly nine months since the invasion. It dealt another strong blow to the Kremlin and could become a springboard for further advances into the occupied territory.

Zelenskyy walked the streets of the city on Monday, just hours after warning in his nightly video address of traps and mines left behind by the Russians before their retreat.

Read more:

Ukrainian Prime Minister Zelensky promises to continue pushing Russia after success in Kherson

“This is the beginning of the end of the war,” he said. “Step by step we are reaching all the temporarily occupied territories.”

The story continues below the ad

The end of Russia’s occupation of the city sparked days of celebration – but also exposed a humanitarian emergency, with residents living without electricity and water and lacking food and medicine. Russia still controls about 70 percent of the wider Kherson region.

Zelenskyy has previously made unexpected appearances in other frontline areas at key moments of the war, and his latest visit was charged with symbolism and common touch — with the clear goal of boosting morale for both soldiers and civilians.

In a video released by a presidential aide, a visibly moved Zelenskiy stood with his right hand on his heart and sang the national anthem, while the soldiers saluted and stood still, and the soldier steadily pulled the yellow-blue Ukrainian flag up the flagpole.

Click to play video: 'Ukrainian troops retake Kherson, Russian forces withdraw'

Ukrainian troops take back Kherson, Russian forces retreat

Other footage shows Zelensky waving to residents who saluted him from their apartment windows and shouting: “Glory to Ukraine!” Answer — “Glory to the heroes!” — returned from Zelenski’s group, composed of soldiers and others.

The story continues below the ad

The president also handed out medals to Ukrainian soldiers in the central square and posed for selfies with them.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on Zelensky’s visit to Kherson on Monday, saying only that “you know it is the territory of the Russian Federation.” The Kremlin illegally annexed the Kherson region and three others earlier this year.

After the Russian withdrawal, Ukrainian authorities say they are finding evidence of torture and other crimes.

In his overnight video address on Sunday, Zelenskyy said without elaborating that “investigators have already documented more than 400 Russian war crimes, and the bodies of civilians and military personnel have also been found.”

In this photo provided by the Press Office of the Ukrainian President and posted on Facebook, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seen during a visit to Kherson on November 14.

Press Office of the President of Ukraine via AP

“In the Kherson region, the Russian army left behind the same crimes as in other regions of our country,” he said. “We will find every murderer and bring them to justice. No doubt.”

The story continues below the ad

Residents said departing Russian troops looted the town, taking the loot as they retreated last week. They also destroyed key infrastructure before retreating across the wide Dnieper River to its eastern bank.

One Ukrainian official described the situation in Kherson as a “humanitarian disaster.”

Reconnecting the electricity supply is a priority, and the gas supply is already secured, Kherson regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said.

The Russian withdrawal marked a triumphant turning point in Ukraine’s resistance to Moscow’s invasion nearly nine months ago. In the past two months, the Ukrainian military has claimed to have recaptured dozens of towns and villages north of the city of Kherson.

© 2022 The Canadian Press