The White House hailed as an “extraordinary victory” Ukraine’s liberation of the city of Kherson from Russia.
“It does look as though the Ukrainians have just won an extraordinary victory in Kherson, where the one regional capital that Russia had seized in this war is now back under a Ukrainian flag — and that is quite a remarkable thing,” National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Saturday to reporters while accompanying President Joe Biden to the ASEAN summit in Cambodia.
His comments came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared Kherson “ours” in a video message on Telegram.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Saturday with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Blinken discussed with Kuleba the United States’ unwavering commitment to assist Ukraine with accelerated humanitarian aid and winterization efforts to mitigate the damage from Russia’s continued attacks on critical infrastructure.
The two officials also talked about Ukraine’s continued effectiveness on the battlefield, and Blinken reiterated that “the timing and substance of any negotiation framework remains Ukraine’s decision.”
Blinken and Kuleba reaffirmed the importance of the Black Sea Grain Initiative’s renewal before it expires November 19 and its role in supporting global food security.
Russia is refusing to renew the grain initiative and allow Ukraine to export grain from Black Sea ports unless Western sanctions are lifted on its own food and fertilizer exports. Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of playing “hunger games” with the world.
No one should “underestimate the continuing threat posed by the Russian Federation,” said British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace in a statement welcoming the Russian withdrawal from Kherson and proclaiming that Britain and the international community will continue to support Ukraine.
Addressing Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson, Wallace also posed the question, “Now with that also being surrendered, ordinary people of Russia must surely ask themselves ‘What was it all for?’”
Britain’s Defense Ministry said Saturday in its daily update on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson “is a public recognition of the difficulties faced by Russian forces on the west bank of the Dnipro River.”
In the intelligence update posted on Twitter, the ministry said while the withdrawal came only two days after its announcement, “it is likely that the withdrawal process had already started as early as 22 October 2022 when Russian-installed figures in Kherson urged civilians to leave the city.”
Russia said Friday it had finished the withdrawal of its troops from the west bank of the Dnipro River and no soldiers or equipment had been left behind.
Retreating Russian soldiers, though, painted a different picture. A Russian soldier described how he and his fellow soldiers were asked to hastily change into civilian clothing so they would not be detected. Also, some of the retreating soldiers reportedly drowned in the river while trying to escape.
For those Russian troops who did not make it out of the city, “the only chance to avoid death is to immediately surrender,” the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Intelligence Directorate said.
Ukrainian forces entered the city of Kherson, a strategic port city on the Dnipro River, on Friday as Russian forces retreated in haste. People rejoiced in the streets of Kherson, welcoming the Ukrainian troops. Many recounted horror stories of Russian soldiers killing civilians and looting homes.
“Today is a historic day. We are getting the south of the country back, we are getting Kherson back,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a Friday evening video address.
Zelenskyy cautioned that Russian forces had placed a large number of landmines in the city, and he noted Ukrainian forces would start working as soon as possible to remove them.
Kherson has been a significant strategic region forming a land bridge from Russia to Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014. Kherson is one of the four provinces that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed in September, a move the United States and other countries have condemned as illegal.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the conflict has killed thousands of people, displaced millions, and destroyed Ukrainian cities and infrastructure.
In mid-October, the United Nations refugee agency said there were more than 7.6 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe, including 2.85 million in Russia. It said another 7 million people have been uprooted within Ukraine.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.