Locals celebrate as Ukrainian troops arrive in Kherson, could be turning point in war

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Ukrainian serviceman enters a trench at the frontline at the northern Kherson region, in Ukraine, on Monday. Ukrainian troops entered Kherson city on Friday. Photo by Hannibal Hanschke/EPA-EFE

Nov. 11 (UPI) — Celebrations continued into the night Friday in the regional capital city of Kherson after Ukrainian troops arrived earlier in the day as the Russian military evacuated after holding the city from the early weeks of Moscow’s invasion.

Social media video showed the remaining residents in the city among troops in the streets chanting “ZSU,” the initials of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Ukraine’s Ministry of defense also shared video of Ukrainian troops driving tanks carrying Ukrainian flags into the city.

Kyiv’s arrival has been part of a larger counteroffensive to win back territory captured by Russia in its nearly 10-month invasion. Kherson was the only regional capital captured by Moscow during the attack.

Russia in September had proclaimed that Kherson and its region were now part of Russia after a local referendum with three other regions, which Ukraine and much of the international community called a sham.

While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky remained skeptical about Russia’s intentions, some Ukrainian officials joined the celebration.

“Kherson is unbreakable,” Yuriy Sobolevskyi, first deputy head of Kherson regional council, said. “Today free people were able to come to Svobody (Freedom) Square with the flags of Ukraine again, as it was when the enemy captured the city.”

Ukrainian authorities have urged Russian soldiers in Kherson to surrender as they moved into the area. Local officials warned that some Russians may be wearing civilian clothes trying to blend in with civilians.

Russia charged that it had prevented an early Ukrainian advance with the use of artillery fire, air strikes and minefields.

“Currently, the accumulations of manpower and military equipment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the right bank of the [Dnipro] are being hit by fire,” the Russian ministry said.

Russia had evacuated the city across the Dnipro River, but Ukrainian authorities remained skeptical about the retreat and entered the city cautiously. Russia said it had not lost “a single piece of military hardware” or troops in the evacuation.

“The number of Ukrainian flags returning to their rightful place within the framework of the ongoing defense operation is already dozens,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday. “Everything that is happening now has been achieved by months of brutal struggle. It was achieved through courage, pain and loss.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia still controls much of the Kherson region, which Russia annexed, even though it is no longer in the capital city.

“This is a subject of the Russian Federation,” Peskov said of the Kherson region. “It has been legally fixed and defined. There can be no changes here.”

When asked if the evacuation of Kherson was “humiliating” for Russia and President Vladimir Putin, Peskov said, “No.”

Russia continued its advances in other areas. Six Ukrainians died and three others were injured in Mykolvaiv after a Russian strike hit the city.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Friday the country’s air defense systems shot down 32 HIMARS rockets and five HARM anti-radar missiles from Ukraine.

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