Ukraine live briefing: Kherson’s liberation reveals food, water crises; Putin faces rising discontent

People celebrate Kherson’s liberation from Russian occupation on Saturday. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post)

Ukrainian troops reentering Kherson, one of the first Ukrainian cities to be captured after Russia’s invasion, discovered the regional capital without water, heat or electricity, an official who had spoken to residents there told The Washington Post. According to Ukrainian officials, the city’s Russian occupiers destroyed Kherson’s critical infrastructure as they withdrew, leaving inhabitants without enough to eat or drink.

The city’s liberation after eight months of Russian occupation — a major morale boost for all of Ukraine with winter approaching — was celebrated over the weekend by jubilant residents who greeted Ukrainian soldiers with music and blue and yellow flags. The milestone was also a major setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who faces growing discontent with his war effort since Moscow lost control of Kherson, according to military experts.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • Kherson has been without running water for four days and without electricity for a week, residents said Saturday afternoon. Cellphones were useless. Instead, people have resorted to shouting over the noise of raucous celebrations. “We’ve waited for so long for this to happen,” said Andriy Fyedorov, 23, as he stood on top of a black SUV, waving the Ukrainian flag. But despite the lack of resources, residents were eager to return.
  • Residents do not have enough food and medical supplies, Kherson official Roman Holovnia said in a television interview, according to .“There is currently not enough medicine, not enough bread because it can’t be baked: there is no electricity,” he said. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his : “Before fleeing from Kherson, the occupiers destroyed all critical infrastructure — communication, water supply, heat, electricity.”
  • Moscow’s loss of Kherson could spell trouble at home for Putin, according to experts at the Institute for the Study of War think tank. Russian troops’ withdrawal from Kherson was “igniting an ideological fracture between pro-war figures and [Putin], eroding confidence in Putin’s commitment and ability to deliver his war promises,” which included “maximalist goals of overthrowing the Ukrainian government and seizing all of Ukraine,” the .
  • Zelensky warned residents returning to Kherson 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 soldier was injured Saturday while demining a Kherson administrative building, Zelensky said.

2. Battleground updates

  • Ukrainian forces are on the defensive in the eastern Donetsk region, Zelensky said.“It’s just hell there,” he added, describing the “extremely brutal battles” that Kyiv’s troops are engaged in every day to prevent Russian forces from advancing further into the region, which Putin illegally claimed to annex in September. Maintaining the defense is crucial for allowing Ukraine to pursue offensive advances elsewhere, Zelensky said.
  • A Russian strike left unexploded ordnance near six apartment buildings in Zaporizhzhia, an official in Zelensky’s office said Saturday evening. Kyrylo Tymoshenko 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.
  • Russian forces destroyed part of the road across the Kakhovka dam as they retreated Friday, but the dam itself remained intact, Serhii Khlan, an elected official from Kakhovka, in the Kherson region, told The Post. Satellite images provided to The Post by Maxar Technologies showed “significant new damage” to the dam and bridges as the Russians retreated from Kherson.

3. Global impact

  • 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.
  • The liberation of Kherson does not change the United States’ position against pushing Ukraine to negotiate, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Saturday. Speaking onboard Air Force One en route from Cambodia, Sullivan said the United States maintains that “we’re not going to pressure [Ukraine]; we’re not going to dictate to [Ukraine]” whether or when to negotiate.
  • Russia and Iran have agreed to step up bilateral cooperation, Moscow ,in a further sign that the invasion of Ukraine has pushed the two allies closer together. Following a Saturday telephone call between Putin and his counterpart in Tehran, Ebrahim Raisi, the Kremlin said the two leaders agreed to increase “contacts” between respective national agencies and to continue cooperating on trade, transport and logistics.

4. From our correspondents

: British street artist Banksy unveiled his latest artwork, this time in Ukraine, Victoria Bisset from London, putting an end to weeks of speculation about whether he had traveled to the country.

The anonymous graffiti artist on his Instagram page late Friday of a mural depicting a female gymnast balancing on the rubble of a destroyed building.

However, he gave no information about the piece or his travels — revealing only its location as the town of Borodyanka, in the Kyiv region. The town, about 30 miles northwest of the Ukrainian capital, was besieged by Russian forces in the early weeks of the invasion and subjected to aerial bombardment. It was recaptured by Ukraine in early April.

World-renowned graffiti artist Banksy unveiled a work in the Ukrainian town of Borodyanka, which had been occupied by Russia until April. (Video: Reuters)