Zelenskiy says Russian withdrawal from Kherson is ‘the beginning of the end’

Ukraine’s president hails counteroffensive in south as Kyiv’s forces work to secure the provincial capital

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyiy visited Kherson on Monday, celebrating the southern city’s recapture days after the retreat of Russian forces.

“Is it the beginning of the end of the war? Of course ... we are step by step coming to the temporarily occupied territories,” he said in Kherson’s main square. “[But] it’s a long way, it’s a difficult way.”

Mr Zelenskiy highlighted the role of western weaponry – particularly US-made Himar advanced rocket systems – in the counteroffensive, one of Russia’s biggest setbacks since it launched its full-scale invasion in February. He has also warned that it will take time to restore essential services and law and order in the city.

Asked about the visit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We will leave this without comment. You know this territory is part of the Russian Federation.”


Mr Zelenskiy also presided over the raising of the Ukrainian flag in Kherson’s square as the national anthem played, according to a video released by Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office.

In pictures released by his office with the caption “Kherson – Ukraine”, Mr Zelenskiy is seen walking around Kherson’s main square, greeting soldiers and residents. One photograph showed the Ukrainian and EU flags flying together.

Mr Zelenskiy and other officials have cautioned that it will take time to restore essential services to Kherson and make it safe for residents to live there again after more than eight months of Russian occupation. In his overnight address, he said 100,000 local residents remained in Kherson and pledged to restore law and order. He said investigators had already documented more than 400 alleged Russian war crimes.

Ukraine has accused Russia of war crimes in other areas it has retaken such as Izyum in north-eastern Kharkiv province, but western officials fear the scale of atrocities in Kherson could be quite stark, given the length of time it was under Russian control, Moscow’s efforts to assimilate the city and its value as the only regional capital captured during the conflict.

Mr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian investigators had already documented more than 400 potential Russian war crimes in parts of the Kherson region that Ukrainian forces had retaken. “The bodies of both civilians and military personnel are being found,” he said. “The Russian army left behind the same atrocities as in other regions of our country.

Yevhen Yenin, of the internal affairs ministry, said Kyiv’s forces had discovered torture chambers inside police departments, according to news outlet Ukrainska Pravda.

Ukraine was pressing on with efforts to restore critical services such as communications to Kherson. Mykhailo Fedorov, digital transformation minister, posted photographs on Twitter showing residents using Starlink satellite internet terminals around the main square.

Officials have warned residents that Kherson and the surrounding areas remain dangerous. The general staff of the Ukrainian forces said there was “a high level of mine danger” and an intensification of Russian aerial reconnaissance in the region, indicating Russia may be planning future attacks.

Russian forces remain in control of large swaths of territory in the Kherson region on the eastern side of the Dnipro river and are working to fortify positions.

Elsewhere, Russia is conducting offensive operations in Donetsk, with Mr Zelenskiy saying that “extremely brutal battles” are taking place every day in the eastern province, which is still largely in the control of occupation forces. Russian forces are attempting to advance near Bakhmut, Avdiyivka and Novopavlivka, the general staff said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022