'We are Ukraine': Locals joyful over Russian retreat from Kherson

Ukrainians on Saturday celebrated Russia's retreat from Kherson, as Kyiv said it was working to de-mine the strategic southern city, record Russian crimes and restore power across the region.

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

Weeks later, the Russian retreat from the city of Kherson has boosted Ukrainian resistance after nearly nine months of fighting and hardship.

In the formerly occupied village of Pravdyne, outside Kherson, returning locals embraced their neighbours, with some unable to hold back tears.

"Victory, finally!" said Svitlana Galak, who lost her eldest daughter in the war.

"Thank god we've been liberated and everything will now fall into place," the 43-year-old told AFP.

"We are Ukraine," added her husband, Viktor, 44.

Several disabled anti-tank mines and grenades could be seen in the settlement, which is home to a Polish Roman Catholic church, with a number of damaged buildings also visible.

Speaking from Kherson city centre, Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the regional state administration, said everything was being done to "return normal life" to the area.

While de-mining is carried out, a curfew has been put in place and movement in and out of the city has been limited, Yanushevych explained in a video posted to social media, in which people could be seen celebrating in the background.

Images distributed by the Ukrainian military showed Kherson residents dancing around a bonfire singing "Chervona Kalyna", a patriotic song.

"Today, we all feel elation," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday after declaring the day before that the Black Sea city was back in Kyiv's hands.

- Evacuation orders -

Kherson city -- which serves as a gateway to the Black Sea -- was the first major urban hub to fall after Russia invaded in February.

"Before fleeing Kherson, the occupiers destroyed all critical infrastructure -- communication, water supply, heat, electricity," Zelensky said, adding that nearly 2,000 explosives had been removed.

He said that Ukraine's forces had established control over more than 60 settlements in the Kherson region.

After an eight-month Russian occupation, Ukrainian television resumed broadcasting in the city and the region's energy provider said it was working to restore power supplies.

Ukraine's police chief Igor Klymenko said around 200 officers were erecting roadblocks and recording "crimes of the Russian occupiers".

He urged Kherson residents to watch out for possible landmines laid by the Russian troops, saying one policeman had been wounded while de-mining an administrative building.

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

In Berislav district of the Kherson region, Ukrainian police said Russian shelling left "dead and wounded", without providing further details.

Across the Dnipro River in the east, local pro-Moscow authorities in Kakhovka district issued an evacuation order to its employees to head to the Russian region of Krasnodar.

"Today, the administration is the number one terrorist attack target for Ukraine's Armed Forces," according to a post on an official Telegram channel.

"This is why by order of the Kherson region government... we are moving to a more secure territory, from where we will be governing the area," it said, referring to the Russia-installed body.

Ukraine's Armed Forces said Saturday evening that Russian forces were currently "strengthening fortification equipment of the defensive lines on the left bank of the Dnipro".

Kherson's full recapture would open a gateway for Ukraine to the entire Kherson region, with access to both the Black Sea in the west and the Sea of Azov in the east.

- Nuclear hint -

On Saturday, an increasingly isolated Putin spoke by phone with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, pledging to intensify political and trade cooperation, the Kremlin said.

Russia's former president Dmitry Medvedev hinted again that Moscow could use nuclear weapons.

"For reasons that are obvious to all reasonable people, Russia has not yet used its entire arsenal of possible means of destruction," Medvedev said on messaging app Telegram.

"There is a time for everything."

Blinken hailed the "remarkable courage" of Ukraine's military and people and vowed US support "will continue for as long as it takes" to defeat Russia.

In London, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Russia's "strategic failure" in Kherson could prompt ordinary Russians to question the war.

"Ordinary people of Russia must surely ask themselves: 'What was it all for?'"

Despite the Kherson victory, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned that Russia is still "mobilising more conscripts and bringing more weapons to Ukraine" and called for the Western world's continued support.

The Kremlin has insisted that Kherson remains part of Russia.

"This is a subject of the Russian Federation. There are no changes in this and there cannot be changes," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

A Ukrainian recapture of the whole Kherson region would disrupt a land bridge for Russia between its mainland and the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

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