Jubilant Ukrainians rolled into Kherson by train on Saturday for the first time in more than eight months as residents of the newly liberated southern city greeted them on the platform with flowers and national flags.
“I can’t even put my feelings into words,” said Hryhorii Vyrtosa, a 67-year-old construction worker, shortly after stepping off the overnight route from the capital, Kyiv.
Ukrainian forces liberated Kherson from Russian occupation on November 11th in what amounted to another large battlefield setback for Moscow. It had been the only regional capital captured by Russian forces since the February 24th invasion.
Saturday’s journey marked the first time Vyrtosa, a native of Kherson region with Moldovan roots, was able to return after escaping the Russian-occupied city of Skadovsk in April.
Upon arriving, a beaming Vyrtosa fulfilled his pledge to shout “Glory to Ukraine” upon arrival. He then tightly hugged his son, who he had not seen in eight months.
Hundreds of residents of the city, which is without electricity, running water or central heating, cheered as they welcomed the train.
“It’s a symbol of freedom. It’s happiness,” said Maria Matsenko (66) who was holding a Ukrainian flag while waiting on the platform with her friend.
The train, which was brightly painted by various Ukrainian artists and featured slogans such as “People of Steel”, departed Kyiv late on Friday following a celebratory event at the main railway station.
The event included a performance by Ukrainian rock singer Oleh Skrypka, with passengers in the crowd, including Ukrainian soldiers, singing along.
Tickets to Kherson first went on sale weeks before its liberation as part of a “Train to Victory” initiative between Ukrainian Railways and president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s United24 fundraising initiative.
The southeastern city of Mariupol, which was heavily damaged earlier this year and is still occupied by Russian forces, is among the other destinations.
Meanwhile, a funeral has been held for one of two Polish men killed in a missile explosion near the border with Ukraine – deaths western officials said appear to have been caused by a Ukrainian air defence missile which went astray.
White roses were placed on the wooden coffin of Boguslaw Wos.
A family member carried a black-and-white photograph of him, while another man carried a crucifix bearing his name.
Polish state news agency PAP described Mr Wos as a 62-year-old warehouse manager.
Mr Wos and another man died on Tuesday in Przewodow, a small farming community some four miles from the border with Ukraine as that country was defending itself against a barrage of Russian missiles directed at its power infrastructure.
Officials from Poland, Nato and the United States say they think Russia is to blame for the deaths no matter what because a Ukrainian missile would not have misfired had the country not been forced to defend itself against Russian attacks.
A Polish investigation to determine the source of the missile and the circumstances of the explosion was launched with support from the US.
Ukrainian investigators joined the inquiry on Friday.
Mr Wos’s funeral took place in a village church and he was to be buried in the local cemetery, PAP said.
The funeral had elements of a state funeral with a military honour guard and Polish officials and Ukrainian representatives joining the man’s family and members of the community.
Ukraine’s consul general in the nearby city of Lublin placed a wreath in the colours of Ukraine, PAP reported.
The funeral and burial were held in private, with the Wos family requesting no media access.
The other victim is to be buried on Sunday. – Associated Press