Ukraine’s military said it had retaken swathes of territory in Kherson on Thursday after Moscow ordered a partial withdrawal from the area, though officials in Kyiv warned that retreating Russian soldiers could turn the regional capital into a “city of death” on their way out.
A military spokesperson said that in just 24 hours, Ukrainian forces had pushed the front line in the key southern region of Kherson forward by 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) and taken control of more than 260 square kilometers of territory (100 square miles). Kyiv said it took control of the towns of Snihurivka and Kyselivka, both of which sit along key roads leading into Kherson city, the regional capital. Kyselivka is located about 15 kilometers (9 miles) away from Kherson city.
Moscow on Wednesday said its troops would withdraw from the west bank of the Dnipro River, an area that includes Kherson city, in one of the biggest military setbacks for Russia since its invasion began. A spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry said that effort began the following day.
Officials in Kyiv, however, have treated the announcement with skepticism. Kherson is one of four Ukrainian regions that Russia attempted to annex in violation of international law, and some doubt that Moscow would give up fighting for a territory filled with people that Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed would be Russian citizens “forever.”
Ukrainian officials are also concerned that the Russian military will embrace scorched-earth tactics and leave behind a trail of devastation in the wake of their withdrawal. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, alleged Thursday that Russia “wants to turn Kherson into a ‘city of death.’”
Ukrainian military spokesperson Vladyslav Nazarov said Russian forces were continuing to shell areas recaptured by the Ukrainian military and attempted to strike humanitarian aid distribution points.
However, signs of the retreat have begun to emerge. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Washington had seen the “beginnings” of a Russian withdrawal in Kherson. Satellite imagery taken last week of Russian-occupied Crimea showed trenches being dug near the border with Kherson, a possible sign that Russian military leaders are nervous about the progress of Ukraine’s counteroffensive.