President Zelensky raises Ukrainian flag in Kherson on visit to liberated city

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Kherson on Monday just days after the southern city was recaptured from Russia.

“We are moving forward,” he said in an address to soldiers, as the Ukrainian flag was raised in the city centre. “We are ready for peace, peace for all our country.”

The city had been under Russian occupation since the first days of the war. President Zelensky said that investigators had discovered evidence of more than 400 war crimes committed by Russian forces during this period in a video address on Sunday.

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“Bodies of dead civilians and servicemen have been found,” he said. “The Russian army left behind the same savagery it did in other regions of the country it entered.”

Similar allegations were made following Russia’s withdrawal from other occupied cities such as Bucha and Izyum. President Zelensky has made a habit of travelling to liberated territories shortly after his army has retaken them. He visited Izyum days after it was reclaimed in a rapid counter-offensive around Kharkiv.

Ukrainian authorities further allege that Russian forces looted valuables during their withdrawal from Kherson. Religious artefacts and artworks from museums were reported stolen – and even animals from Kherson zoo.

The president’s visit on Monday came despite repeated warnings that the city is still not yet under full Ukrainian control. Ukrainian officials have warned that Russian soldiers may remain in the city undercover, and that there is still a threat from mines and unexploded bombs.

But the city’s civilian population have not waited to celebrate the return of the Ukrainian army after eight months of Russian occupation. Soldiers have been greeted by jubilant crowds since they first arrived in the city on Friday. Russian symbols have been torn down and Ukrainian flags raised.

A Ukrainian soldier writes a message on the Ukrainian flag for a girl as Ukrainians celebrate the liberation of their town in Kherson, on November 13, 2022, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine. - On November 11, 2022, Russia said it had pulled back more than 30,000 troops in the southern region, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declaring Kherson "ours" as residents reacted with joy and jubilation. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
A Ukrainian soldier writes a message on the Ukrainian flag for a girl as Ukrainians celebrate the liberation of their town in Kherson (Photo: Getty/AFP)

Aid agencies are moving to address shortages of food, water, and medicines in Kherson. The Russian army reportedly cut off electricity during its retreat from the city.

Ukraine’s railway network, which has demonstrated extraordinary resilience to keep operating throughout the war, announced that it was selling advanced tickets to Kherson, as well as several other occupied territories including Mariupol and Crimea.

“The ticket can be purchased (and) kept as a symbol of faith in the armed forces and the liberation of Ukraine,” said rail authorities. “As soon as traffic is restored, railway officials will send a message with the date and location.”

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Ukraine has also released its latest commemorative stamp to mark the liberation of Kherson. Stamps have become a wartime tradition to mark military successes such as the sinking of the Moskva battleship and Ukrainian defence of Snake Island.

But amid the celebrations there was a reminder of the need for ongoing discipline from Ukrainian authorities. Journalists from Sky News and CNN had their accreditation withdrawn for “blatant violation” of rules in Kherson.

“Multiple members of the media, ignoring existing bans and precautions…and without the approval of the relevant commanders and military units’ public relations services, conducted information activities in the city of Kherson before the completion of stabilisation measures. These actions are a blatant violation,” said the military in a statement.

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