Ukraine live briefing: Kherson elated about Ukrainian control, but city has ‘no electricity or water’
KHERSON, Ukraine — Scores of people filled the city center Saturday afternoon, celebrating the liberation of the regional capital less than 24 hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Kyiv’s forces had retaken much of the regional capital from Russian occupation. Babushkas and children waved to arriving soldiers as young men stood on cars, waving Ukraine’s yellow and blue flag. Explosions boomed in the distance, but most of the revelers didn’t seem to notice. They had their city back.
But Ukrainian officials warned that the humanitarian situation in the city remained “threatening.” One official, who had spoken to residents in the city, told The Washington Post that the Russians had left the city “on the brink of a humanitarian crisis,” adding: “There is no water, no electricity, no heating.”
Air raid sirens sounded across Ukraine on Saturday, and a strike in the southern Mykolaiv region killed seven people Friday — a stark reminder that even as Kherson comes under Ukrainian control, Russian forces on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River will still be able to hit Mykolaiv with drones or missiles.
Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.
- A few dozen people danced in Kherson’s central square, some hugging one another and crying after almost nine months of Russian occupation finally seemed at an end. “We are so happy, despite all our struggles,” said Olga Malakh, 56, as she stood in the central square with her husband, who was waving a large Ukrainian flag. “We have lived through so much, but we will rebuild.” Serhii Khlan, an elected official from the nearby Kakhovka region, told The Post on Saturday that residents were elated at the arrival of Ukrainian forces.
- Kherson had been without running water for four days, and without electricity for a week, residents said. Cellphones were useless. Instead, people resorted to shouting over the noise of raucous celebrations. “We’ve waited for so long for this to happen,” Andriy Fyedorov, 23, said as he stood on top of a black SUV, waving the Ukrainian flag. Without the heavy Russian presence in their city, many Kherson residents freely spoke of arbitrary searches, arrest, torture and even disappearances under the Kremlin’s occupation.
- The humanitarian situation in the city remained “threatening,” a Kherson official, speaking to The Post from Vynnytsia, said Friday. “There is no electricity or water, and no communication connections,” said Nataliya Chornenka, head of the Korabelny area in Kherson city. But she said residents were keen to return: “People are calling all the time, asking ‘when can we go back?’ We are already packing and our children want to go home.’”
- Zelensky warned returning residents to avoid handling objects left behind by the Russians as bomb disposal teams have removed some 2,000 explosive devices in the Kherson region – “mines, trip wires and unexploded ammunition.” A Ukrainian sapper was injured Saturday while demining a Kherson administrative building, Zelensky said during his nightly address Saturday.
- Russian forces used explosives to destroy part of the road across the Kakhovka dam as they retreated Friday, but the dam itself remained intact, Khlan told The Washington Post. Satellite images provided to The Post by Maxar Technologies on Friday showed “significant new damage” to the dam and bridges as the Russians retreated from Kherson.
- A Russian airstrike killed at least seven people in Mykolaiv on Friday. A Post reporter’s visit to the site of the explosions showed that part of an apartment building had collapsed. Rescue workers continued to pick through the rubble, kicking up huge clouds of dust, as stunned survivors waited to be let back into their damaged apartments in the city about 40 miles northwest of Kherson.
- Russia has moved its administrative center for the Kherson region to the port city of Henichesk after its retreat from Kherson city this week, a spokesman for the Moscow-installed local administration was quoted as saying by Russian media. Alexander Fomin added that no document formalizing the move to the city in the east of the Kherson region had been signed. Kherson was one of four Ukrainian regions illegally annexed by Russia in late September.
- A Russian strike left unexploded ordnance near six apartment buildings, a presidential adviser said Saturday evening. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, an official in Zelensky’s office, shared a photo on and said the material was loaded with about 50 charges that could explode at any moment. Authorities were moving people out of the area, Tymoshenko said, and a bomb squad was working to dispose of it.
- Russia’s retreat from Kherson “has broader strategic implications,” Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, said on Air Force One, as President Biden headed to Cambodia on Saturday. Sullivan added that Ukraine’s ability to push Russian troops across the Dnieper River reduces the “long-term threat” to places such as Odessa and the Black Sea shore.
- The Russian-appointed head of Kakhovka in the Kherson region announced the evacuation of its employees from the area a signal that the Kremlin is pulling farther into Russian territory less than a day after Ukrainian authorities retook the regional capital. “By order of the government of the Kherson region, we, as an authority, are moving to a safer territory, from where we will lead the district,” Pavel Filipchuk said on the administration’s channel.
- Russia probably began withdrawing its forces long before its public announcement this week, the British Defense Ministry said Saturday. “There is a realistic possibility that Russian military equipment and forces in civilian attire had been evacuating” while tens of thousands of civilians were ordered to leave by the Moscow-installed authorities in late October, the ministry said in its daily intelligence update.
- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba thanked Washington for its support months into the conflict with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in Cambodia with a U.S. delegation that includes President Biden. “When we see Kherson residents greeting their liberators with tears of joy, we also feel grateful to the U.S.,” Kuleba tweeted. This week, the United States an additional $400 million in security assistance for Ukraine. The latest U.S. aid package includes Avenger air defense systems that come equipped with Stinger missiles.
- Rice is the crop that could be “most badly affected by lack of fertilizers,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told a Friday, adding that the United Nations was working to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative that guarantees the safe passage of cargo ships to and from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. “Removing all remaining obstacles to the exports of Russian fertilizers is an essential step toward global food security,” Guterres said.
- Germany has allocated 1 billion euros from its 2023 budget to provide Ukraine with funding to defend against Russian cyberattacks, reported Friday. The money will also be used to collect evidence of Russian war crimes, according to a document cited by the news agency.
- , the elusive artist known for his graffiti art in public places, , a town northwest of Kyiv, to on Friday. The Instagram post, which appears to be Banksy’s first since December 2021, shows graffiti art on a demolished building.
From our correspondents
KHARKIV REGION, Ukraine — The hunt for Ukrainians helping the Russians led intelligence investigators to an idyllic village with a house on a hill, where the father of an accused traitor lives.
The man knew they wanted to talk about his son Sergey, who was in jail awaiting trial for allegedly passing information to Russian forces about where Ukrainian soldiers and weapons were located in the city of Chuhuiv — a hotbed of military activity in the northeastern Kharkiv region. Ukraine’s main internal security service, the SBU, considers Sergey an agent for one of Russia’s special services, perhaps the FSB.
“I’ll be honest, boys,” the father told the officers, “in the first days, I was passing coordinates to my guys.”
But in a country where loyalties can be twisted, were his guys the Russians or the Ukrainians?
Even amid a war in which Moscow has targeted Ukrainian civilians and caused countless deaths, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Kamila Hrabchuk report, Russia has been able to recruit Ukrainians to aid its invasion. Sometimes it’s through blackmail. Sometimes it’s through payoffs. And sometimes Ukrainians are simply sympathetic to their country’s enemy — be it because of Soviet nostalgia or shared Russian language and ethnic identity.
Dixon reported from Riga, Latvia; Stern from Kyiv; Lau from Hong Kong; Bissett from London; and Somasundaram and Salcedo from Washington. Erin Cunningham in Washington, Anastacia Galouchka in Kherson and Matt Viser on Air Force One contributed to this report.