Zelensky greets overjoyed Ukrainians in Kherson, and accuses Russians of more war crimes in liberated city

14 November 2022, 11:29 | Updated: 14 November 2022, 11:53

President Volodymyr Zelensky has visited liberated Kherson
President Volodymyr Zelensky has visited liberated Kherson. Picture: Office of the president of Ukraine/Getty

By Kit Heren

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has arrived in Kherson after the city was liberated from the Russian invaders last week.

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Mr Zelensky was greeted by cheering locals in the southern city on Monday, which had been occupied by Russian soldiers for months.

The president spoke to soldiers and said that Ukraine is "moving forward" and "ready for peace".

Addressing a large crowd of residents in the city centre, Mr Zelensky was asked where the Ukrainian army would advance next.

He said: "Not Moscow... We're not interested in the territories of another country."

Local residents surround Ukrainian soldiers as they celebrate the liberation of Kherson
Local residents surround Ukrainian soldiers as they celebrate the liberation of Kherson. Picture: Getty
President Zelensky in Kherson
President Zelensky in Kherson. Picture: Office of the president of Ukraine

The wider Kherson region is still largely occupied by Russian troops. The region is one of four illegally annexed by Russia earlier this year. Russian president Vladimir Putin had previously said the occupation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson was "non-negotiable".

Asked about Ukrainian troops moving into Kherson, Russian government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: "We leave this without comment."

"You know, this territory is part of the Russian Federation."

Matt Frei and Malcom Rifkind discuss Kherson

The withdrawal sparked intense celebrations from residents, although they are also enduring a humanitarian emergency - with many residents without electricity and running water, and food and medicines running short.

It comes after the Ukrainian president accused Russia of committing war crimes in Kherson on Sunday night.

In his nightly video address, Mr Zelensky said without details that "investigators have already documented more than 400 Russian war crimes, and the bodies of both civilians and military personnel have been found".

A woman kisses a Ukrainian soldier as local residents gather to celebrate the liberation of Kherson
A woman kisses a Ukrainian soldier as local residents gather to celebrate the liberation of Kherson. Picture: Getty

"In the Kherson region, the Russian army left behind the same atrocities as in other regions of our country," he said. "We will find and bring to justice every murderer. Without a doubt."

The withdrawal came as Russian supply lines were choked by the advancing Ukrainian forces. The city of Kherson was the only regional capital to have been captured by Russian troops since the invasion began and the retreat marks a significant defeat for Russia

Zelensky said Russian soldiers who were left behind when their military commanders abandoned the city last week are being detained. He also spoke, again without details, of the "neutralisation of saboteurs".

A local resident waves a Ukrainian flag at a former Russian checkpoint at the entrance of Kherson as local residents celebrate the liberation of the city
A local resident waves a Ukrainian flag at a former Russian checkpoint at the entrance of Kherson as local residents celebrate the liberation of the city. Picture: Getty

Ukrainian police have called on residents to help identify people who collaborated with Russian forces.

Mr Zelensky urged people in the liberated zone to also be alert for booby traps, saying: "Please, do not forget that the situation in the Kherson region is still very dangerous. First of all, there are mines. Unfortunately, one of our sappers was killed, and four others were injured while clearing mines."

And he promised that essential services will be restored.

"We are doing everything to restore normal technical capabilities for electricity and water supply as soon as possible," he said.

"We will bring back transport and post. Let's bring back an ambulance and normal medicine. Of course, the restoration of the work of authorities, the police, and some private companies are already beginning."

Residents said departing Russian troops plundered the city, carting away loot as they withdrew last week. They also wrecked key infrastructure before retreating across the wide Dnieper River to its east bank.

One Ukrainian official described the situation in Kherson as "a humanitarian catastrophe".

Reconnecting the electricity supply is the priority, with gas supplies already assured, Kherson regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said.

Ukrainian flags were raised in the centre of the city of Kherson on Friday after Russian troops fled.

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Read more: Putin 'offered surrender terms by the West' as his troops retreat from Kherson

All Russian troops were moved across the Dnipro river to the eastern bank early on Friday morning, Russian officials said..

However the Kremlin denied the retreat was a humiliation for Putin. Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said: "The loss of Kherson will turn all those southern dreams by the Kremlin into dust.

"Kherson is a key to the entire southern region, which would allow Ukraine to target key supply routes for the Russian forces. Russians will try to retain control of it using all means."

The bridge Russians used to retreat from the city has been destroyed, with some suggestion the fleeing troops may have blown it up themselves to cover their retreat.

According to claims on social media, one Russian paratrooper’s last order in the Kherson region was to “change into civilian clothing and run in any direction you wanted.”

Pictures circulated online purportedly showed Russian troops still in Kherson, carrying weapons but wearing civilian clothes, having taken off their Russian combat fatigues.