'A humanitarian catastrophe' as Ukraine counts the cost of Russia's Kherson retreat

After celebrating the liberation of Kherson -- which brought jubilant people to the streets of several Ukrainian cities -- officials are now warning of an unfolding humanitarian disaster.

Ukrainian police have returned to the streets of the southern city, along with TV and radio services, but officials have described a "catastrophe.”

Humanitarian aid supplies have begun to arrive from neighbouring Mykolaiv region but an adviser to Kherson's mayor, Roman Holovnya, said the remaining residents lack water, medicine and food: and key basics like bread went unbaked because of a lack of electricity.

The Russian retreat represented a significant setback for the Kremlin 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.

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. Police teams also were working to identify and neutralize unexploded ordnance and one sapper was wounded Saturday while demining an administrative building, Klymenko said.

Ukraine’s communications watchdog said national TV and radio broadcasts had resumed and an adviser to Kherson’s mayor said humanitarian aid and supplies had begun to arrive from the neighboring Mykolaiv region.

But the adviser, Roman Holovnya, described the situation in Kherson as “a humanitarian catastrophe.” He said the remaining residents lacked water, medicine and food — and key basics like bread went unbaked because a lack of electricity.

“The occupiers and collaborators did everything possible so that those people who remained in the city suffered as much as possible over those days, weeks, months of waiting” for Ukraine’s forces to arrive, Holovnya said. “Water supplies are practically nonexistent.”

The chairman of Khersonoblenergo, the region's prewar power provider, said electricity was being returned “to every settlement in the Kherson region immediately after the liberation."

Despite the efforts to restore normal civilian life, Russian forces remain close by. The General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces said Saturday the Russians were fortifying their battle lines on the river's eastern bank after abandoning the capital. About 70% of the Kherson region still remains under Russian control.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Saturday that Ukrainian forces have established control of more than 60 settlements in the Kherson region and “stabilization measures are also ongoing in Kherson itself.”

“Everywhere in the liberated territory, our explosives technicians have a lot of work to do. Almost 2,000 explosive items have already been removed,” Zelenskyy said. “Before fleeing from Kherson, the occupiers destroyed all critical infrastructure — communication, water supply, heat, electricity.”

Photos on social media Saturday showed Ukrainian activists removing memorial plaques put up by the occupation authorities the Kremlin installed to run the Kherson region.

A Telegram post on Yellow Ribbon, Ukrainian resistance movement, showed two people in a park taking down plaques picturing Soviet-era military figures.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba raised the prospect of the Ukrainian army finding evidence of possible Russian war crimes in Kherson, just as it did after Russian pullbacks in the Kyiv and Kharkiv regions.

“Every time we liberate a piece of our territory, when we enter a city liberated from Russian army, we find torture rooms and mass graves with civilians tortured and murdered by Russian army in the course of the occupation," Ukraine's top diplomat said at the ASEAN summit in Cambodia this weekend.

"It’s not easy to speak with people like this. But I said that every war ends with diplomacy and Russia has to approach talks in good faith.”