Relief in Cherson, Ukraine, after Russian occupation

Relief in Cherson, Ukraine, after Russian occupation


Ukrainians in the liberated southern city of Kherson expressed a sense of relief on Sunday as they adjusted to life under Kiev authorities after months of Russian occupation.

Residents said the Russians left a trail of devastation after an eight-month occupation, and an animal rights group said Moscow’s forces even stole a raccoon, wolves and squirrels from a local zoo.

There were no scenes of jubilation on Sunday, an AFP correspondent said, but many locals said they felt a great sense of relief after Kyiv regained control of the city.

Residents queued for food, and many adults and children walked around draped in Ukrainian flags.

Some gathered in the town’s main square, mainly to use Starlink satellite internet and to connect with relatives.

“They took everything with them. They cleared out the shops,” says Viktoria Dybovska, a 30-year-old shop assistant.

“They turned off the light three or four days ago when they were just leaving. They just disappeared overnight,” added Antonina Vysochenko, 29.

Oleksandr Todorchuk, founder of UAnimals, an animal rights movement, said Russian troops stole animals from a local zoo.

“They brought most of the zoo’s collection to Crimea: from llamas and wolves to donkeys and squirrels,” he said on Facebook.

In a major humiliation for the Kremlin, the Russian army withdrew from the city of Kherson on Friday.

Kherson was one of four regions in Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin allegedly annexed in September.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday that the Russians “destroyed all critical infrastructure – communications, water supply, heat, electricity” before fleeing Kherson.

Ukrainian TV broadcasts have returned and officials said on Saturday that authorities were working to demine the city, chronicle Russian crimes and restore power.

Returning locals in the formerly occupied village of Pravdyne outside Kherson hugged their neighbors on Saturday, with some unable to hold back tears.

“Victory at last!” said Svitlana Galak, who lost her eldest daughter in the war.

“Thank God we have been freed and everything will fall into place now,” the 43-year-old told AFP.

“We are Ukraine,” added her husband Viktor, 44.

Several deactivated anti-tank mines and shells were seen in the settlement, where a Polish Roman Catholic church is located, and a number of damaged buildings can also be seen.

A curfew was imposed during demining and movement in and out of the city was restricted, local authorities said.

– Evacuation Orders –

The city of Kherson – which serves as a gateway to the Black Sea – was the first major urban center to fall after Russia invaded in February.

Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces had taken control of more than 60 settlements in the Kherson region.

Ukraine’s police chief Igor Klymenko said on Saturday that around 200 officers set up roadblocks and recorded “crimes committed by the Russian occupiers”.

He urged residents of Kherson to be alert to possible land mines laid by Russian troops and said a police officer was wounded while clearing an administrative building.

A woman and two children were taken to hospital with injuries after an IED went off near their car in the village of Mylove, police said.

Across the Dnieper River to the east, local pro-Moscow authorities in the Kakhovka District issued an evacuation order to their staff to head to Russia’s Krasnodar Territory.

Ukrainian forces said late Saturday that Russian forces were “reinforcing” defense lines on the left bank of the Dnieper.

Kherson’s complete reconquest opens Ukraine’s gateway to the entire Kherson region, with access to both the Black Sea to the west and the Sea of ??Azov to the east.

– ‘What was all that for?’ –

On Saturday, an increasingly isolated Putin spoke to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi by phone and vowed to step up political and trade cooperation, the Kremlin said.

Shunned by the West for his offensive in Ukraine, the 70-year-old leader will not be traveling to Indonesia for next week’s G20 summit.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed the “remarkable courage” of Ukraine’s military and people and pledged to continue US support “as long as necessary” to defeat Russia.

In London, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Russia’s “strategic failure” in Kherson could prompt ordinary Russians to question the war.

“Ordinary people in Russia must surely be asking themselves, ‘What was all that for?'”

The Kremlin insists that Kherson remains part of Russia.

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