Zelenskyy calls liberation of Kherson ‘beginning of the end’

Zelenskyy calls liberation of Kherson ‘beginning of the end’

KHERSON Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy paid a triumphant trip to Kherson on Monday to hail the Russian withdrawal as the ‘beginning’ of the end of war but also acknowledged the high price that Ukrainian soldiers are paying for their relentless effort to repel the invading force.

The retaking of Kherson was one of Ukraine‘s biggest successes in nearly nine months since the invasion. It was another stinging blow for the Kremlin, and could be a springboard to further advances in occupied territory.

Zelenskyy walked through the streets of the city Monday after he had warned in his nightly video address about the booby traps, mines and other remnants left by the Russians during their retreat.

“This marks the beginning of the end to the war.” he stated. “We are step by step coming to all the temporarily occupied territories.”

The end of Russia’s occupation of the city has sparked days of celebration — but also exposed a humanitarian emergency, with residents living without power and water and short of food and medicines. Russia still controls 70% in the wider Kherson region.

Zelenskyy appeared previously unexpectedly in other front-line locations at crucial junctures during the war. His latest visit was both laden by symbolism as well as the common touch — clearly aimed to boost the morale of both soldiers, and civilians.

A video of Zelenskyy singing the national anthem was captured by a presidential aide. Soldiers stood and saluted, while Zelenskyy held his right hand up to his heart.

Other footage showed Zelenskyy waving at residents as he saluted them from their apartment windows. He then yelled, “Glory Ukraine!” — and the reply was “Glory for the heroes!” — from Zelenskyy’s group of soldiers. The president also gave medals to Ukrainian soldiers and took selfies with them in a central square. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin, refused to comment Monday on Zelenskyy’s visit to Kherson. He said only that “you know that it’s the territory of Russia Federation.” The Kremlin illegally annexed the Kherson area and three other regions earlier this year. The Ukrainian authorities claim they have evidence of torture and other atrocities after the Russian retreat.

In his nightly video address on Sunday, Zelenskyy said without giving details that “investigators have already documented more than 400 Russian war crimes, and the bodies of both civilians and military personnel have been found.”

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

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

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.

The Russian pullout was a major milestone in Ukraine’s fight against Moscow’s invasion nearly nine months ago. The Ukrainian military claimed that it had retaken many villages and towns north of Kherson in the past two months.

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Associated Press writers John Leicester in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Hanna Arhirova in Odesa, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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