Ukrainian Flags Raised In Kherson After Russian Retreat

Ukrainians flags have been flown in the key city of Kherson after Russia abandoned the only regional capital it had captured since its invasion in February.

Video footage posted to social media showed the yellow-and-blue national flag being raised at the regional administration building.

An EU flag was also visible in the pictures as Ukrainian troops were greeted by joyous residents in the centre of Kherson on Friday.

Dozens of Ukrainians have been filmed cheering and chanting victory slogans in Kherson’s central square, where the apparent first Ukrainian troops to arrive snapped selfies in the crowd at the end of more than eight months of occupation.

Ukraine’s defence intelligence agency said Kherson was returning to Ukrainian control and ordered any remaining Russian troops to surrender to Ukrainian forces entering the city.

“Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes! Glory to the nation!” one man shouted in another video.

Russia said it had withdrawn 30,000 troops across the Dnipro River without losing a single soldier, but Ukrainians painted a picture of a chaotic retreat, with Russian troops ditching their uniforms, abandoning weapons and drowning while trying to flee.

Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo: PA Graphics via PA Graphics/Press Association Images)
Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo: PA Graphics via PA Graphics/Press Association Images)

Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo: PA Graphics via PA Graphics/Press Association Images)

Ukrainian officials have not confirmed the city was back in Ukrainian hands.

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said “an operation to liberate Kherson” and the surrounding region of the same name was underway.

“It will be possible to talk about establishing Ukrainian control over the city only after an official report by the general staff” of the Ukrainian army, Andriy Yusov told The Associated Press.

Ukrainian intelligence urged Russian soldiers who might still be in the city to surrender in anticipation of Ukrainian forces arriving. “Your command left you to the mercy of fate,” it said in a statement. “Your commanders urge you to change into civilian clothes and try to escape from Kherson on your own. Obviously, you won’t be able to.”

The final Russian withdrawal came six weeks after Russian president Vladimir Putin illegally annexed the Kherson region and three other Ukrainian provinces, vowing they would remain Russian forever.

Moscow’s forces still control about 70% of the Kherson region following the pullback ordered amid a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

The Kremlin remained defiant on Friday, insisting the withdrawal in no way represented an embarrassment for Putin. Moscow continues to view the entire Kherson region as part of Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Ukrainian officials were wary of the Russian pullback announced this week, fearing their soldiers could get drawn into an ambush in Kherson city, which had a prewar population of 280,000. Military analysts also had predicted it would take Russia’s military at least a week to complete the troop withdrawal.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.