By SAM MEDNICK and JOHN LEICESTER
MYKOLAIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s president vowed to keep pushing Russian forces out of his country after they withdrew from Kherson, leaving behind devastation, hunger and booby traps in the southern Ukrainian city.
The Russian retreat from Kherson marked a triumphant milestone in Ukraine’s pushback against Moscow’s invasion almost nine months ago. Kherson residents hugged and kissed the arriving Ukrainian troops in rapturous scenes.
“We will see many more such greetings” of Ukrainian soldiers liberating Russian-held territory,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Saturday.
He pledged to the people in Ukrainian cities and villages that are still under occupation: “We don’t forget anyone; we won’t leave anyone.”
Ukraine’s retaking of Kherson was a significant setback for the Kremlin and the latest in a series of battlefield embarrassments. It came some six weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed the Kherson region and three other provinces in southern and eastern Ukraine in breach of international law and declared them Russian territory.
As Ukrainian forces on Sunday consolidated their hold on Kherson, authorities contemplated the daunting task of clearing out explosive devices and restoring basic public services in the city.
One Ukrainian official described the situation in Kherson as “a humanitarian catastrophe.” The remaining residents in the city are said to lack water, medicine and food. There are shortages of key basics such as bread because of a lack of electricity.
Ukrainian police called on residents to help identify collaborators with Russian forces during the eight-month occupation. Ukrainian police officers returned to the city Saturday, along with public broadcasting services, following the departure of Russian troops.
The national police chief of Ukraine, Ihor Klymenko, said Saturday on Facebook that about 200 officers were at work in the city, setting up checkpoints and documenting evidence of possible war crimes.
In what could perhaps be the next district to fall in Ukraine’s march on territory illegally annexed by Moscow, the Russian-appointed administration of the Kakhovka district, east of Kherson city, announced Saturday it was evacuating its employees.
“Today, the administration is the number one target for Ukrainian attacks,” said the Moscow-installed leader of Kakhovka, Pavel Filipchuk.
“Therefore, by order of the government of the Kherson region, we, as an authority, are moving to a safer territory, from where we will lead the district,” he wrote on Telegram.
Kakhovka is located on the left bank of the River Dnieper, upstream of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station.
Meanwhile, the city of Nikopol, further upstream, was heavily shelled overnight, Dnipropetrovsk Regional Council chair Mykola Lukashuk reported Sunday.
Writing on Telegram, he said that two women were wounded but are in a stable condition in hospital. One private house and two farm buildings were destroyed, while over 40 residential buildings, more than 24 commercial buildings, a college, a register office and electricity networks were damaged.
According to Lukashuk, the city of Marhanets also came under fire. Two private houses were damaged, but no injuries were reported. Nikopol and Marhanets lie across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest.
In Kherson, photos on social media Saturday showed Ukrainian activists removing memorial plaques put up by the occupation authorities. A Telegram post by Yellow Ribbon, the Ukrainian resistance movement in the occupied territories, showed two people in a park taking down plaques picturing Soviet-era military figures.
Moscow’s announcement that Russian forces were withdrawing across the Dnieper River, which divides both the Kherson region and Ukraine as a whole, followed a stepped-up Ukrainian counteroffensive in the country’s south. In the past two months, Ukraine’s military claimed to have retaken dozens of towns and villages north of the city of Kherson, and the military said that’s where stabilization activities were taking place.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba sought to temper the excitement over the Russian retreat from Kherson.
“We are winning battles on the ground, but the war continues,” he said from Cambodia, where he was attending a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists Sunday that a joint statement on the results of the summit was not adopted, since “the American side and its partners insisted on an unacceptable assessment of the situation in Ukraine and around it.”
The Kremlin is angered by the support Ukraine receives from its Western allies, including the United States.
Leicester reported from Kyiv, Ukraine.
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