Liberation of Kherson

Event in 2022 Russia–Ukraine war

Clockwise from top left:
  • Column of Ukrainian tanks in Kherson Oblast
  • Zelenskyy confirming Kherson's liberation on radio
  • Civilians lifting female ZSU soldier on shoulders
  • ZSU soldier placing flag on "Kherson Oblast" sign
DateLiberation of Kherson:
11 November 2022[1]
Russian withdrawal from Kherson:
9–11 November 2022[1][2]
Location
Southern Ukraine
Result

Ukrainian victory

  • Liberation of right-bank Kherson Oblast and Mykolaiv Oblast (except Kinburn Peninsula)
  • v
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2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine
Kyiv offensive

Northeastern Ukraine campaign

Eastern Ukraine campaign
Donbas offensive
Eastern Ukrainian counteroffensive

Southern Ukraine campaign
Southern Ukrainian counteroffensive

Other regions
Naval war
Spillover and cross-border incidents
Resistance

Possibly related

The Liberation of Kherson was the recapture on 11 November 2022 of the city of Kherson and other areas of Kherson Oblast and parts of Mykolaiv Oblast on the right bank of the Dnieper river by the Armed Forces of Ukraine (ZSU), while the Russian Armed Forces withdrew to the left bank (known as the Russian withdrawal from Kherson, 9–11 November 2022).[1][3][4][5] The events were a result of the 2022 Ukrainian southern counteroffensive during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Background

After the 24 February invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces surrounded the city of Kherson in late February, and occupied it about 2 March, 2022, after heavy fighting the previous day.[6]

In September 2022, Russia announced the annexation of the oblast, along with three others in a widely condemned move.[7]

On 9 November, Russian general Sergey Surovikin announced the withdrawal of troops from Kherson and the north bank of the Dnieper.[2][8][9] He claimed the reasoning for this decision was that Kherson and nearby settlements couldn't be properly supplied and that civilians were in danger from Ukrainian shelling.[10]

Withdrawal and liberation

Ukrainian Armed Forces advancing

On 10 November, a video emerged appearing to show the Ukrainian flag flying in Snihurivka.[11] Ukrainian forces also had regained control of the village of Kyselivka, fifteen kilometers northwest of Kherson.[12] On the same day, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valerii Zaluzhnyi stated that Ukrainian forces had taken back 41 settlements near Kherson since 1 October.[13]

Ukrainian officials estimated half of the Russian soldiers had been withdrawn across the Dnipro by the evening of 10 November.[1] In the early morning of 11 November, Russian infantrymen were seen walking across a pontoon bridge to the eastern shore.[1] Ukrainian armour and columns closed in on Kherson proper as they moved past several towns, villages and suburbs, where they were greeted by cheering and flag-waving civilians.[1]

Russian withdrawal efforts

"Ukrainian soldiers here are saying they have rather utterly defeated the Russian troops. The story goes that the Russians rushed to surrender. According to the Kremlin, the withdrawal was very well-organised, but the Ukrainians soldiers here paint quite a different picture."

– NOS (15 November)[14]

As Russian troops retreated across the river Dnipro, Ukrainian troops went further into Kherson Oblast and surrounding areas.[1] The Russian Ministry of Defence claimed on 11 November 5 a.m. Moscow time (2 a.m. UTC) that all soldiers (approximately 30,000) and all military equipment had been successfully moved across the river in an orderly withdrawal.[1][15] Several analysts and experts considered perfectly conducting such a large and complex manoeuvre in a matter of three days to be logistically impossible.[1] Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov told Reuters: 'It's not that easy to withdraw these troops from Kherson in one day or two days. As a minimum, [it will take] one week' to move them all (40,000 by his estimate).[16][1]

On Russian social media, many troops appeared to be in panic as they sought to escape, with pro-Kremlin bloggers echoing panic, suggesting a collapse in morale and logistics.[16][1] Many reports from journalists, Ukrainian civilians and authorities as well as individual Russian soldiers indicated that the withdrawal had been rather chaotic, with many Russian servicemen and materiel left behind on the right bank.[1] Deutsche Welle reported that major equipment pieces such as anti-aircraft defence systems appeared to have been successfully transferred to the other bank, but this would leave troops stuck on the northern side vulnerable to Ukrainian artillery and drone attacks.[16] Groups of Russian soldiers (some of them wounded) were reportedly captured, or voluntarily surrendered to advancing Ukrainian forces.[1] Ukrainian official Serhiy Khlan stated that some Russian soldiers failed to leave Kherson, and changed into civilian clothing.[1] One unidentified Russian soldier appeared to confirm that the last order his unit received was 'to change into civilian clothing and fuck off any way you want'.[1] Some Russian soldiers reportedly drowned while trying to swim across the Dnipro.[1] Ukrainian intelligence posted a Russian-language statement on social media, calling on remaining Russian soldiers to surrender.[1] Footage on social media suggested that Ukrainian troops had captured several Russian tanks, armoured vehicles and crates of ammunition, contradicting the Russian Defence Ministry's statement that '[n]ot a single piece of military equipment or weaponry was left behind on the right [west] bank'.[15]

Ukrainian Armed Forces entering Kherson

Ukrainian soldiers in cars entering the city centre of Kherson, welcomed by cheering civilians (11 November)

The Armed Forces of Ukraine entered the city on 11 November.[17] Later that day, Ukrainian forces liberated Kherson and the rest of the right bank of Kherson Oblast.[15] There were some fears that Russian forces might have laid a trap, therefore the ZSU advanced with some caution.[4] As in other liberated areas, the arriving Ukrainians found mines and booby traps, which posed a danger to both soldiers and civilians.[2] On 11 November, the Ukrainian military was working to clear them, but several people were wounded by such devices, and at least one was killed.[18] As the ZSU moved into the city, no ambushes of any sort appeared to have been prepared, with some observers describing the disorderly retreat as a "rout".[4]

When Ukrainian troops arrived, crowds of civilians gathered to welcome them, and celebrated the liberation.[19] On Freedom Square (Ukrainian: Площа Свободи, romanizedPlóshcha Svobódy), civilians were seen chanting "Glory to the ZSU [Ukraine’s armed forces]", hugging soldiers, singing songs and waving Ukrainian flags.[1] One female soldier of the ZSU was lifted up by two men on their shoulders, and then tossed into the air to express their gratitude.[1] Cars took to the streets honking their horns, while residents tore down pro-Russian propaganda posters.[1] Similarly in Bilozerka, a town on the western edge of Kherson city, residents tore down propaganda billboards with a young girl holding a Russian flag, which read: "Russia is here forever".[15] Kherson residents were seen dancing in the darkness around a bonfire singing "Chervona Kalyna", a Ukrainian patriotic song that had been banned by Russian occupation authorities for nine months.[20][21] Following liberation, Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelenskyy called it a "historic day".[22]

Aftermath

Military and political impact

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, participating in reraising the Ukrainian flag while visiting liberated Kherson, on 14 November 2022

By withdrawing, Russian forces ceded control of about 40% of Kherson Oblast to Ukraine.[15] The loss of Kherson has been widely regarded as a significant blow to Vladimir Putin, who on 30 September said that Kherson would be "part of Russia forever".[23] On 12 November, the occupying forces declared Henichesk, a port city on the Sea of Azov, to be the "temporary administrative capital of the Kherson region".[24] During the withdrawal, Russian soldiers took the bones of the 18th century Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin, who was considered the modern founder of the city, from Kherson's St. Catherine's Cathedral.[25]

Initially, most of the city's inhabitants were euphoric, celebrating the Russian withdrawal in public, and welcoming the Ukrainian forces as liberators, while others were worried about the time ahead.[26] A Kherson resident said: 'I want to celebrate, but something tells me it is not over yet. The Russians can't be giving up so easily, not after everything that has happened. I am scared for the winter and worry the city will become a battle ground. We will be in the firing line.'[27] Military analysts stated that there was a danger of Russian artillery shelling Kherson from the eastern bank of the Dnipro.[26]

On 14 November Zelenskyy made an unannounced visit to Kherson and spoke to a crowd of several hundred residents, saying "We are, step by step, coming to all of our country...I am happy we are in Kherson.”[28] The NOS described the situation on the ground as "a sort of unspoken ceasefire. That both belligerents have taken a kind of break, and are not extensively shooting at each other."[29] Aleksandr Dugin, the ideologue of Russian nationalism and Eurasianism, openly criticized Vladimir Putin for failing to defend "Russian cities" such as Kherson.[30]

Damage to infrastructure and logistics

Satellite images from Maxar Technologies showed that major damage to infrastucture had been done during the withdrawal from Kherson, including the destruction of at least seven bridges, four of them across the river Dnipro, within 24 hours.[15] Two spans of the Antonivka Road Bridge were destroyed; according a reporter from the pro-Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda at the scene, '[t]hey were likely blown up during the withdrawal of the Russian group of forces from the right bank to the left'.[15] Upstream, the Kakhovka Dam was also damaged; as of 11 November, Ukrainian forces were still not in control of the dam, although they had retaken the village of Tyahynka, located 20 kilometres to the west.[15]

Kherson TV Tower blown up by Russian army before retreat

Much of Kherson city's electricity, internet and water supply networks had broken down by the time Ukraine re-established control.[26] President Zelenskyy said on 12 November: "Before fleeing from Kherson, the occupiers destroyed all the critical infrastructure: communications, water, heat, electricity."[31] Kherson TV Tower, Kherson combined heat and power plant [uk] and other energy infrastructure facilities were blown up.[32][33]

The occupied Kherson region is home to part of the North Crimean Canal, which, prior to Russia's annexation of Crimea, provided 85% of Crimea's drinking and agriculture water.[34] Ukraine shut down the canal in 2014 soon after Russia annexed Crimea. Russia restored the flow of water in March 2022.[35] Regaining control of Kherson means Ukraine could once again cut off water to Crimea.[36]

Damage to cultural heritage

Looted Local History Museum [uk]

Before retreating from the city, Russian forces looted its main museums: Local History Museum [uk] and the Art Museum. Their items were transported to Crimean museums.[37][38] In addition, Russian army took away monuments to Alexander Suvorov, Fyodor Ushakov, Vasily Margelov, Grigory Potemkin and remains of the latter.[39][40]

Demographics

Changes during occupation

Before the war, Kherson had some 300,000 inhabitants, but by the end of the Russian occupation, only about 80,000 were left.[41] Many civilians had fled, while some were killed during the Russian occupation.[41] In late October 2022, the Russian military 'evacuated' at least 70,000 civilians from Kherson to the eastern bank of the river Dnipro; Ukrainian authorities alleged that these relocations were forced, and called them 'deportations'.[42] After Ukraine retook the city, some 25 people had died due to exploding mines and munitions by 19 November.[41]

The Russian language was still commonly used for communication within Kherson city for historical demographical reasons, but due to the fact that Ukrainian was forbidden during the Russian occupation, and many civilians were mistreated and felt humiliated by Russian soldiers, some residents expressed shame at speaking Russian after everything that had happened.[41] In the short film Occupied: Family secretly film life in Russian-occupied Ukraine for BBC News, local Kherson journalist Dmytro Bahnenko stated: 'After everything that happened in Bucha and what we witnessed, I don't want to speak Russian anymore.'[43]: 6:12 

Post-occupation voluntary evacuations

View of Freedom Square in Kherson on 19 November 2022

Yaroslav Yanushevych, the new Ukrainian governor of Kherson Oblast since August 2022, stated on 18 November: '[Evacuating residents] depends on whether there will be electricity. The president has said very clearly that we should throw all our resources into restoring the electricity supply'.[44] Kherson district head Mykhailo Lynetskiy said there were no plans yet to evacuate the city's residents, but that there was a major risk the electricity and water repairs could not be completed in the short term, and inhabitants would be better off trying to find winter accommodation elsewhere in the country: 'As a Kherson city native, I categorically advise people to leave the city for safer places for the duration of the winter period.'[44]

By 21 November 2022, Ukrainian authorities had initiated efforts to facilitate voluntary evacuations of Kherson residents who desired to winter elsewhere until the city was more secure, with deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk saying: 'Currently, we are not talking about forced evacuation. But even in the case of voluntary evacuation, the state bears responsibility for transportation. People must be taken to the place where they will spend the winter.'[45]

Demining operations

Governor of Mykolaiv Oblast Vitalii Kim warned that there were still 'a lot of mines in the liberated territories and settlements. Don't go there for no reason. There are casualties.'[15] Yaroslav Yanushevich, Kherson Oblast military chair, stated that efforts were made to return the city to 'normal life', with police urging internally displaced people 'not to rush to return home until stabilisation measures are completed', such as demining operations.[26]

The Ukrainian Deminers Association NGO told The Guardian: "We can't make forecasts yet, as the clearing procedure has only started, but potentially the region of Kherson could be most mined region in the country and unfortunately Ukraine could soon rank first in the world for number of casualties caused by mines." The removal of mines and tripwires across the oblast and the rest of the recaptured territories of Ukraine was expected to take months if not years.[46]

Reactions

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Beaumont, Peter; Harding, Luke; Sauer, Pjotr; Koshiw, Isobel (11 November 2022). "Ukraine troops enter centre of Kherson as Russians retreat in chaos". the Guardian. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  2. ^ a b c Kirby, Paul; Gardner, Frank; Bowen, Jeremy (9 November 2022). "Kherson: Russia to withdraw troops from key Ukrainian city". BBC News.
  3. ^ Watch: Ukrainians celebrate liberation as Russia pulls out of Kherson | CNN, 11 November 2022, retrieved 11 November 2022
  4. ^ a b c "Ukraine updates: Kherson is 'ours,' says Zelenskyy – DW – 11/11/2022". dw.com. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  5. ^ a b Kramer, Andrew E.; Santora, Marc (11 November 2022). "Russia-Ukraine War: Zelensky Hails 'Historic Day' as Ukrainian Troops Enter Kherson". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  6. ^ Terajima, Asami (16 November 2022). "Kherson chronicle: From quick fall to liberation". The Kyiv Independent. Retrieved 16 November 2022.
  7. ^ Mirovalev, Mansur. "Russia's Kherson retreat marks tectonic shift in Ukraine war". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  8. ^ "Russia to withdraw troops from key Ukraine city of Kherson". The Independent. 9 November 2022.
  9. ^ "Russia 'orders troops' to withdraw from the Ukrainian city of Kherson". euronews. 9 November 2022.
  10. ^ "News Wrap: Russian military withdrawing from Kherson in southern Ukraine". PBS News Hour. 9 November 2022.
  11. ^ "Ucrania retomó la ciudad de Snihurivka y consolida su contraofensiva en Kherson". infobae. 10 November 2022.
  12. ^ Rainews, Redazione di (10 November 2022). "Live guerra in Ucraina. La cronaca minuto per minuto, giorno 260". RaiNews.
  13. ^ "Zelenskyy: Good news from southern Ukraine, 41 towns and villages liberated". Yahoo News. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  14. ^ Wessel de Jong (15 November 2022). "Na Cherson lijkt doorbraak logisch, 'maar strijd is nog niet voorbij'" [After Kherson breakthrough seems obvious, 'but conflict not over yet']. NOS (in Dutch). Retrieved 15 November 2022.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Krever, Mick; Chernova, Anna; Rebane, Teele; Mezzofiore, Gianluca; Lister, Tim; Tanno, Sophie (11 November 2022). "Ukrainian troops sweep into key city of Kherson after Russian forces retreat, dealing blow to Putin". CNN. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  16. ^ a b c "Ukraine updates: Kherson is 'ours,' says Zelenskyy – DW – 11/11/2022". dw.com. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
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  18. ^ Michael E. Miller and Anastacia Galouchka (11 November 2022). "Mines and booby traps pose peril as Ukrainian forces push to Kherson city". Washington Post. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  19. ^ "Ukrainians celebrate liberation as Russia pulls out of Kherson". CNN. 11 November 2022. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  20. ^ "People in Kherson dance around a fire to celebrate Ukrainian forces entering the city | AFP". AFP News Agency. 12 November 2022. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
  21. ^ "Zelensky proclaims strategic Kherson 'ours', as US hails Ukraine's victory". The Straits Times. 12 November 2022. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
  22. ^ "Zelensky hails 'historic day' as Ukraine forces enter Kherson after Russian retreat". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
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  24. ^ "Occupation 'government' of Kherson region announces temporary relocation of regional capital to Henichesk". Novaya Gazeta Europe. 12 November 2022. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  25. ^ Kramer, Andrew E. (13 November 2022). "Russia Tried to Absorb a Ukrainian City. It Didn't Work". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  26. ^ a b c d Robertson, Nic; Woodyatt, Amy; Khadder, Kareem; Nagel, Clayton; Gak, Kosta (12 November 2022). "No water, power or internet -- only euphoria in newly liberated Kherson | CNN". CNN. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  27. ^ Badshah, Nadeem; Belam, Martin; Kearney, Christine (12 November 2022). "Russia-Ukraine war live: Moscow declares new 'temporary capital' for Kherson region after Ukraine retakes city". the Guardian. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
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  31. ^ David Ljunggren (12 November 2022). "Zelenskiy: Russians destroyed Kherson infrastructure, Donetsk battles are 'hell'". Reuters. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
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  37. ^ "Ukraine reports looting of Kherson museums by Russian troops". El Pais. 17 November 2022.
  38. ^ "Russia to take over Ukrainian museum collections as formal annexation plans announced". The Art Newspaper. 30 September 2022. Archived from the original on 14 November 2022.
  39. ^ ""У нас будет бойня, мы готовы". Кто остается в Херсоне и кто его покидает" (in Russian). BBC. 27 October 2022. Archived from the original on 19 November 2022.
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  41. ^ a b c d Arhirova, Hanna (19 November 2022). "'We survived': Kherson comes alive after Russian withdrawal". Associated Press. Retrieved 21 November 2022.
  42. ^ "Russia ends civilian pull-out before Kherson battle". BBC News. 28 October 2022. Retrieved 21 November 2022.
  43. ^ Dmytro Bahnenko (20 October 2022). "Family secretly film life in Russian-occupied Ukraine – BBC News". BBC News. Retrieved 21 November 2022.
  44. ^ a b Isobel Koshiw, Lorenzo Tondo & Artem Mazhulin (18 November 2022). "'Biggest challenge of my life': Kherson's leaders toil to turn city around". the Guardian. Retrieved 18 November 2022.
  45. ^ Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Ben Shpigel (21 November 2022). "Russia-Ukraine War: Ukraine says it will help civilians leave Kherson". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 November 2022.
  46. ^ Lorenzo Tondo & Isobel Koshiw (16 November 2022). "'The Russians mined everything': why making Kherson safe could take years". the Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2022. Before the Russians withdrew, Ukrainian authorities had warned that Moscow was trying to turn Kherson into a “city of death”, but now it appears Russian soldiers turned the entire region into a minefield – potentially making it the most mined area in Ukraine and perhaps in the world.
  47. ^ Reuters (11 November 2022). "Kremlin says Kherson's status as 'part of Russia' unchanged despite retreat". Reuters. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
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  50. ^ "Russian pullout from Ukraine's Kherson region is 'positive' move: Erdogan". TRT World. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
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