Ukraine fears a trap as Russia 'withdraws' from key industrial city of Kherson

10 November 2022, 11:27 | Updated: 10 November 2022, 11:40

Ukraine worries the Russian retreat could be a trap
Ukraine worries the Russian retreat could be a trap. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Ukrainians have responded warily after Russia said it was withdrawing from the contested city of Kherson.

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Russia announced a military retreat "in the near future" on Wednesday to the opposite bank of the Dnieper River from where Kherson lies.

A forced withdrawal from Kherson, a key industrial centre in southern Ukraine with a pre-war population of nearly 300,000, would mark one of Russia's worst setbacks in war.

It would follow the early failed attempt to capture capital Kyiv and the retreat from the area around Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv in May.

A man looks at his destroyed house in Mykolaiv, near Kherson
A man looks at his destroyed house in Mykolaiv, near Kherson. Picture: Getty
Ukraine is moving towards Kherson
The Ukrainian army is moving towards Kherson. Picture: Getty
Neighbours greet each other in a village recently liberated by Ukraine
Neighbours greet each other in a village recently liberated by Ukraine. Picture: Getty

But an aide to Volodymyr Zelensky warned that the Russian claims of withdrawal from Kherson may be a feint to draw Ukraine into a prolonged and bloody battle.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told The Associated Press: "So far, we do not see any signs that Russia is completely leaving the city, which means that these statements may be disinformation."

Ukraine has been focusing on Kherson as part of a wider attempt to take back territory in the south-east of the country, cutting off supply lines to the occupied city to put pressure on Russia.

Taking Kherson, which lies north of occupied Crimea could enable Ukraine to reconquer wide swathes of the south.

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But Yaroslav Yanushevych, Kherson's Ukrainian-appointed governor, told Kherson "not to give in to euphoria" just yet. Local official Serhii Khlan also told reporters that the Russian army had blown up five bridges to slow down Ukrainian troops.

Military analyst Oleg Zhdanov said any Russian retreat "could very well be an ambush and a Russian trap to force the Ukrainians to go on the offensive, force them to penetrate the Russian defences, and in response to strike with a powerful blow from the flanks".

Kherson has a strategic position within southern Ukraine
Kherson has a strategic position within southern Ukraine. Picture: Google Maps

Mr Zelensky did not directly comment, saying in his nightly video address: "Our emotions must be restrained - always during war. I will definitely not feed the enemy all the details of our operations... When we have our result, everyone will see it."

Russia has evacuated 115,000 residents from the city, which it took early in the invasion, because their "lives are constantly in danger".

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General Sergei Surovikin , Moscow's top military commander in Ukraine announced the withdrawal on Wednesday, reporting that it was impossible to supply the city of Kherson and that its defence would be "futile".

Defence minister Sergei Shoigu agreed with Mr Surovikin's assessment and ordered him to "start with the withdrawal of troops and take all measures to ensure the safe transfer of personnel, weapons and equipment across the Dnieper River".

A top American general said that Russia has amassed between 20,000 and 30,000 soldiers in Kherson, meaning a full retreat could take several weeks.

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Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said as many as 40,000 Ukrainian civilians and "well over" 100,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded in the war. "Same thing probably on the Ukrainian side," Mr Milley added.

"There has been a tremendous amount of suffering, human suffering," he said at The Economic Club of New York.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday he was open to peace talks with Russia to end the war but only on the condition that Russia return all of Ukraine's occupied lands, provide compensation for war damage and face prosecution for war crimes.

Russia has said it is open to talks.