Russia’s withdrawal from a regional capital in the south of Ukraine has brought “significant reputational damage”, UK defence experts have said.
It is anticipated that Ukraine has now retaken large areas of the Kherson region on the western bank of the Dnipro River, with its forces largely in control of city itself.
Russia said its troops finished withdrawing from the western bank at 5am local time on November 11, paving the way for Ukrainians to cautiously move towards reclaiming the territory.
Videos and pictures posted on social media later showed residents celebrating in the streets, with the Ukrainian flag flying over a central Kherson square.
British intelligence analysts believe Moscow’s exit from Kherson, a strategically key city, likely began as early as October 22 when Russian-installed figures urged civilians to leave.
In an intelligence update posted on social media, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Moscow’s troops had “highly likely” destroyed road and rail bridges over the Dnipro River as part of their retreat.
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine - 12 November 2022
Find out more about the UK government's response: https://t.co/3KZRVyGntj
🇺🇦 #StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/EZn7Ae67xH
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) November 12, 2022
“There is a realistic possibility that Russian military equipment and forces in civilian attire had been evacuating in conjunction with the 80,000 stated evacuated civilians in recent weeks,” they said.
The MoD said is it probable Moscow is still attempting to evacuate forces from other parts of the region across the river to defensible positions on the eastern bank.
“Kherson was the only regional capital city captured since February by Russian forces so the withdrawal brings significant reputational damage,” it said.
“The withdrawal is a public recognition of the difficulties faced by Russian forces on the west bank of the Dnipro River.
“It is likely that Ukraine has retaken large areas of Kherson oblast on the west bank of the Dnipro River, and that its forces are now largely in control of Kherson city itself.”
Kherson was one of the first Ukrainian cities to be captured in the war Moscow waged on its neighbour from February 24.
The retreat, which was ordered amid a Ukrainian counter-offensive, represents a huge blow to president Russian president Vladimir Putin – who has so far remained silent on the development.
Russian forces still control about 70 per cent of the wider Kherson region in the wake of the withdrawal.