The Ukrainian military recaptured large swathes of Kherson on Thursday after Moscow ordered a partial evacuation from the area, but officials in Kyiv warned that retreating Russian soldiers could turn the region’s capital into “a ‘” City of the Dead”.
In just 24 hours, Ukrainian forces advanced 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) to the front in key areas south of Kherson, taking control of more than 260 square kilometers (100 square miles) of territory, a military spokesman said. Kyiv said it controlled the towns of Snihurivka and Kyselivka, both on the main road to the regional capital Kherson. Kyselivka is about 9 miles (15 km) from Kherson.
Moscow said on Wednesday that its troops would withdraw from the west bank of the Dnieper, an area that includes the city of Kherson, in one of Russia’s biggest military setbacks since the invasion began. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said the work began the next day.
However, officials in Kyiv were skeptical of the announcement. Kherson is one of four Ukrainian regions Russia has attempted to annex in violation of international law, and some suspect Moscow will give up fighting for the overcrowded territory that Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to be Russian citizens “forever”.
Ukrainian officials also fear that Russian troops will employ scorched earth tactics and leave a trail of destruction after the withdrawal. Mikhailo Podoljak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said on Thursday that Russia “wants to turn Kherson into a ‘city of death’.”
Ukrainian military spokesman Vladislav Nazarov said Russian forces continued to shell areas recaptured by the Ukrainian military and attempted to attack humanitarian aid distribution points.
However, signs of retreat have begun to show. General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Washington had seen the “beginning” of Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson. Satellite images of Russia’s occupation of Crimea last week showed trenches being dug near the border with Kherson, a possible sign that Russian military leaders are nervous about the progress of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.