The first Ukrainian soldiers have arrived in the center of Kherson, prompting scenes of utter joy and celebration among residents who have lived under Russian occupation since the beginning of March.
Surrounded by a crowd chanting “ZSU!”, which in Ukrainian stands for “Ukrainian Armed Forces”, members of the armed forces were held aloft by civilians, hugged and made the stars of hundreds of selfies and videos.
Earlier on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, when it became clear the Russians had retreated from the city and weren’t coming back anytime soon, the Ukrainian flag was raised in the city center and the crowds began to assemble.
The incredible scenes mark a massive and humiliating defeat for Vladimir Putin who just six weeks ago attempted to illegally annex the Kherson region and declared it part of Russia.
In a sign of the shambles unfolding in the Kremlin, as well as its slim grasp on reality, just a few hours before Ukrainian troops entered the city, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Kherson remains a “subject of the Russian Federation,” adding, “It is legally fixed and defined. There are no changes and there can be no changes.”
The reality on the ground is very different. Kherson is very much Ukraine.
Anton Gerashchenko, advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs, said in a post on Twitter, “Our soldiers report they had to slow down their advance because they are hugged and kissed so much.”
The scenes unfolding in the center of Kherson echo scenes captured over the last few days in other areas of the region as Ukrainian troops steadily liberated dozens of villages on their way back to the city.
In one video, a column of soldiers can be seen marching triumphantly down a road, greeted by hundreds of civilians many with balloons in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
No longer under the watchful eye of Russian occupiers, locals were free to paint those same colors wherever they saw fit.
And as the Ukrainian colors reemerged, Russia’s were being stripped from the city.
Other soldiers were greeted by a young girl playing the Ukrainian national anthem on a violin.
Russia has tried to spin the retreat as a tactical success, saying it was completed on Friday morning without the loss of a single soldier or piece of equipment.
Ukraine believes some Russian soldiers still remain in Kherson and has told them to surrender. In a post on Telegram, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Defense Ministry said, “You have only one chance to avoid death – immediately surrender.”