Kyiv has hailed Russia’s announced withdrawal from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson as another key battlefield success in Ukraine’s operation to liberate territory occupied by Moscow after its unprovoked invasion.
“Ukraine is gaining another important victory right now and proves that whatever Russia says or does, Ukraine will win,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on November 11 in a tweet that included a video purporting to show Kherson residents removing a billboard that proclaimed “Russia is here forever.”
Earlier on November 11, Russia said it had completed the withdrawal of its troops from the strategic southern city two days after Moscow announced the surprise pullout.
A regional lawmaker said on the same day that Ukrainian armed forces were in the final stage of reclaiming the west bank of the Dnieper River from Russian troops.
Serhiy Khlan, a deputy for Kherson Regional Council, said a Ukrainian flag had been raised in Kherson, as multiple videos circulating on social media purportedly showed Ukrainian soldiers planting their yellow-and-blue flag on administrative buildings in the city and local residents celebrating.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement earlier in the day that it had finished the pullout from Kherson city at 5 a.m. on November 11 and not a single unit of military equipment was left behind.
However, Khlan said some Russian soldiers had been unable to leave the city and had changed into civilian clothing and urged local residents to stay at home while Ukrainian troops cleared the city.
“The number of these people is not known,” he told a news briefing, without citing evidence for the claim.
Khlan also said, without citing evidence, that many Russian troops had drowned attempting to flee across the river.
The head of the joint coordination press center of the Defense Forces of Southern Ukraine, Natalya Humenyuk, said Russian troops “have been changing into civilian clothes for two weeks.”
“This should focus our forces as it means saboteur operations cannot be ruled out,” Humenyuk told a separate briefing.
“Because of this, we are not rushing to announce our successes in other directions and in other towns.”
Russia did not immediately comment on Khlan’s or Humenyuk’s remarks.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on November 10 that it would take Russia at least a week to withdraw, telling Reuters in an interview that Russia had 40,000 troops in the Kherson region and that it still had forces in the city.
Kherson controls both the only land route to Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula and the mouth of the Dnieper, which bisects Ukraine.
Recapturing the city could provide Ukraine with a launching pad for supplies and troops to try to win back other lost territory in the south.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s public broadcaster quoted local residents as saying on November 11 that the Antonivskiy bBdge, the only nearby road crossing from Kherson city to the Russian-controlled eastern bank of the Dnieper, has collapsed.
The Suspilne broadcaster published a photograph showing whole sections of the bridge missing. The next road crossing across the Dnieper is more than 70 km from Kherson city.
It was not immediately clear what had caused the bridge’s collapse.
Recapturing the city could provide Ukraine a launching pad for supplies and troops to try to win back other lost territory in the south.
The Ukrainian General Staff said retreating Russian forces have been looting homes and destroying critical infrastructure, while forcibly evicting residents from the settlements still under their control.
“The Russian invaders continue to loot the settlements from which they are retreating. The enemy is also attempting to damage power lines and other elements of the transport and critical infrastructure of the Kherson region as much as possible,” the military said, adding that Russian mines continue to wound civilians.
Elsewhere, six civilians were killed in a Russian rocket attack on Mykolayiv overnight, the mayor of the southern Ukrainian city said on November 11, as Ukrainian troops continued their advance in the direction of Kherson.
The mayor of Mykolayiv, Oleksandr Sienkovych, said on November 11 that the people were killed when Russian rockets hit a residential area of the city, destroying a five-story building.
“As of 10 a.m., six people were killed by the impact of the attack on the residential building,” Sienkovych said.
Fierce fighting continues in Bakhmut and Soledar in the eastern Donetsk region as well as in the adjacent Luhansk region, the military said, adding that heavy Russian shelling pounded about 20 settlements in the Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, and Mykolaiyv regions.
In his nightly address late on November 10, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said: “Today we have good news from the south. The number of Ukrainian flags returning to their rightful place within the framework of the ongoing defense operation is already dozens.” He added that 41 settlements have been liberated.