President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has hailed Ukraine’s recapture of Kherson during a surprise visit to the strategic southern city as the possible ‘beginning of the end of the war’ but warned such victories come at a high price .
The liberation of Kherson in the past few days has been one of Ukraine’s biggest successes in the nearly nine months since the Russian invasion began and has sparked days of celebration, but also revealed a humanitarian emergency. for city dwellers.
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“This is the beginning of the end of the war,” Zelenskiy said in a speech to Ukrainian troops in the city. “We are arriving step by step in all the temporarily occupied territories.”
But he also reminded Ukrainians that success comes at a high human cost.
“The price of this war is high. People are injured. A large number of dead. (Russian forces) left or escaped – we think they escaped because our army surrounded the enemy and that they were in danger,” Zelensky said. said.
“There were fierce battles, and the result is — today we are in the Kherson region.”
“We are moving forward,” Zelenskiy told Ukrainian soldiers in the city, thanking NATO and other allies for their continued support in the war against Russia.
“We are ready for peace, peace for our whole country,” he said.
As heavy fighting continues in eastern and southern Ukraine, the Kremlin declined to comment on Zelenskiy’s visit to the city, but spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “You know it’s the territory of the Russian Federation“.
Russia, which still controls around 70% of the wider Kherson region, illegally annexed it and three other Ukrainian regions in September following referendums that Kyiv and the West have called a fraud.
Suspicious Ukrainian officials have maintained a curfew in the liberated region of Kherson, fearing mines and booby traps could still maim and kill civilians.
Kherson Region Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said authorities decided to maintain a curfew from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. and ban people from leaving or entering the city as a safety measure.
“The enemy has mined all critical infrastructure,” Yanushevych told Ukrainian television. “We try to meet in a few days and (then) open the city,” he said.
Zelenskiy’s visit to the region came a day after a new evidence war crimes were discovered in Kherson after the departure of Russian troops.
Zelenskiy said Ukrainian investigators uncovered hundreds of war crimes in areas liberated from Russian occupation.
“Investigators have already documented more than 400 Russian war crimes,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly Nov. 13 video address. “The bodies of dead civilians and soldiers have been found”.
“The Russian army left behind the same savagery as in other parts of the country it entered,” he said.
The claims could not be independently verified. Russia denies that its troops intentionally target civilians.
Zelenskiy said “stabilization and restoration of law” was established in 226 settlements in the region, while the Defense Ministry said it took over 179 settlements and 4,500 square kilometers along the Dnieper during the last week.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian army reported the continuation of heavy fighting along the eastern front in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces Southern Command said on Nov. 14 that Russian forces continued to “inflict fire damage on our troops and disoccupy settlements along the right bank of the Dnieper” even after the city was liberated. of Kherson, which Zelenskiy described as “a historic day.”
Yanushevych warned people in an online post about reports of humanitarian aid arriving in Freedom Square in downtown Kherson and urged people to avoid the city center as mine clearance operations were to take place there.
Zelenskiy also warned residents of Kherson about the presence of Russian mines. “I ask you please to remember that the situation in the Kherson region remains very dangerous,” he said.
The announcement by Russian officials to withdraw their forces across the Dnieper River, which cuts off the Kherson region and Ukraine, follows a seemingly hugely successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south of the country in recent months.
US President Joe Biden hailed the recapture of Kherson as a “significant victory”, bolstering confidence that Moscow will not occupy its neighbor as planned during its invasion in late February.
“I can only applaud the courage, determination and ability of the Ukrainian people,” Biden said. Told a press conference after meeting Chinese President Xi Xinjping on November 14.
“I think you’re going to see things slow down a bit because of the winter months…I think it remains to be seen exactly what the outcome will be.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned on November 14 that Ukraine must prepare for a harsh winter.
“The coming months will be difficult. Putin’s goal is to leave Ukraine cold and dark this winter,” he told a news conference in The Hague after meeting Dutch business ministers. Foreign Affairs and Defence.
Stoltenberg urged continued international support for Kyiv and said Russia’s military capability should not be taken lightly.
“We must not make the mistake of underestimating Russia. They still control large parts of Ukraine. What we must do is strengthen Ukraine’s hand.”
With reports from Reuters and AP