MYKOLAIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian military carried out “stabilization measures” near the southern city of Kherson on Saturday following the end of an eight-month occupation by Russian forces, a retreat that cast a further pall on President Vladimir Putin’s designs to take over large parts of Ukraine.
People across Ukraine awoke from a night of jubilant celebrating after the Kremlin announced its troops had withdrawn to the other side of the Dnieper River from Kherson, the only regional capital captured by Russia’s military during the ongoing invasion.
In a regular social media update Saturday, the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Russian forces were fortifying their battle lines on the river’s eastern bank after abandoning the capital. About 70% of the Kherson region remains under Russian control.
Ukrainian officials from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on down cautioned that while special military units had reached Kherson city, a full deployment to reinforce the advance troops still was underway. On Friday, Ukraine’s intelligence agency said it thought some Russian soldiers stayed behind, ditching their uniforms for civilian clothes to avoid detection.
“Even when the city is not yet completely cleansed of the enemy’s presence, the people of Kherson themselves are already removing Russian symbols and any traces of the occupiers’ stay in Kherson from the streets and buildings,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Friday.
Photos circulating Saturday on social media showed Ukrainian activists removing memorial plaques put up by the occupation authorities the Kremlin installed to run the Kherson region. A Telegram post on the channel of Yellow Ribbon, a self-described Ukrainian “public resistance” movement, showed two people in a park taking down plaques picturing what appeared to be Soviet-era military figures.
Moscow’s announcement that Russian forces planned to withdraw across the Dnieper River, which divides both the Kherson region and Ukraine, followed a stepped-up Ukrainian counteroffensive in the country’s south.
In the last two months, Ukraine’s military claimed to have reclaimed dozens of towns and villages north of Kherson city, and the Ukrainian General Staff said that’s where the stabilization activities were taking place.
The Russian retreat represented a significant setback for the Kremlin some six weeks after Putin annexed the Kherson region and three others provinces in southern and eastern Ukraine in breach of international law and in the face of widespread condemnation. The Russian leader unequivocally asserted the illegally claimed areas as Russian territory.
Russian state news agency TASS quoted an official in Kherson’s Kremlin-appointed administration on Saturday as saying that Henichesk, a city on the Azov Sea some 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of Kherson city, would serve as the region’s “temporary capital” after the withdrawal across the Dnieper.