Russian forces destroyed critical infrastructure in the southern city of Kherson before their withdrawal, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said, as Kyiv’s military retook control of the southeastern city.
“Before fleeing from Kherson, the occupiers destroyed all the critical infrastructure: communications, water, heat, electricity,” Zelenskyy stated in a video address on Saturday.
“[Russians] everywhere have the same goal: to humiliate people as much as possible. But we will restore everything, believe me,” he said.
Jubilant residents welcomed troops arriving in the city center on Friday after Russia abandoned the only regional capital it had captured since the start of the war in February.
Ukrainian troops retook control of more than 60 settlements in the Kherson region, Zelenskyy said, adding that almost 2,000 mines, tripwires and unexploded shells had been dealt with so far.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukraine was “winning battles on the ground.” But the war continues.”
Ukraine’s triumphant recovery of Kherson was welcomed by the United States as an “extraordinary victory”.
“It’s a big moment and it’s 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 Adviser Jake Sullivan said while traveling to Cambodia with President Joe Biden for a regional summit.
‘Most decisive’ event in the war
Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from the Kherson region, said Moscow’s withdrawal was the “most decisive” event in this war so far.
“It’s boosted the morale of Ukrainian soldiers who say … they now believe they can win this war.”
Ukraine’s National Police chief, Ihor Klymenko, said some 200 officers were at work in the city, setting up checkpoints and documenting evidence of possible war crimes.
He urged Kherson residents to watch out for possible landmines laid by the Russian troops, saying one policeman had been wounded while de-mining an administrative building.
Officials also said humanitarian aid was being delivered to the city’s residents.
“The situation is very difficult because Russia created intolerable conditions for the people to stay and live in Kherson. And before the retreat of Russian troops, Russia had deliberately tried to create a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Oleksandr Merezhko, the chair of the Ukrainian Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Policy.
“The process of de-mining has already started, and humanitarian aid has started to flow to the city. And we hope within a month that we will open post offices, we will start giving money and pensions and salaries to workers in Kherson,” he told Al Jazeera.
About 70 percent of the Kherson region remains under Moscow’s control, with Russian troops fortifying their battle lines on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River, according to the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces.
Russia established the Ukrainian city of Henichesk as the Kherson region’s temporary administrative capital following its withdrawal from Kherson city.
Sergey Markov, a former adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told Al Jazeera that losing Kherson was a blow for Russia, but that Moscow’s mobilization means it will be Ukraine’s last victory.
“It’s really embarrassing for Russia. We used to believe that the Russian army is the second army in the world, after the United States. Probably even equal to the United States. So, it’s depressing for the population, it’s depressing for the army, but we still believe this is the last military victory of the Ukrainian army,” he said.
“The main reason is that Ukraine has a total military mobilization over the spring. Ukraine is five times less than Russia in terms of population, but Ukraine’s army is twice as big as the Russian army. But now that privilege will be over for the Ukrainian army, because 300,000 mobilized Russians will come to the Russian army.”
The Kremlin meanwhile insisted Kherson was still part of Russia and it did not regret annexing the entire Kherson region. Russia announced the annexation of four Ukrainian regions, including Kherson, in September — a step dubbed illegal by Kyiv and denounced by Western countries.
The 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.