Russia has completely withdrawn its troops from the west bank of the Dnipro, including the strategic city of Kherson, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
According to various Western media reports and videos, including Reuters, AP, Germany’s DWNews and the British Broadcasting Corporation, Ukrainian soldiers began moving in and were greeted by jubilant civilians as Moscow’s troops left.
The Ministry of Defense has denied Kyiv’s claims that Russian forces have abandoned large amounts of equipment on the north bank of the river.
The ministry continued to insist there were no casualties among the departing Russian forces despite being hit by US-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launchers.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the withdrawal on 9 November, based on an assessment by General Sergei Slovikhin, commander of Moscow’s “special military operations” underway in Ukraine.
According to media reports, Ukrainian forces began entering the city of Kherson on 11 November as Russian troops and equipment were withdrawn from the area.
Earlier statements by military officials in Kyiv were cautious.
On November 9, the Chief of the General Staff of Ukraine said: In consideration of the safety of the operation, the official results will be announced at a later date. ”
In a televised address the night before, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukrainian forces had already recaptured 41 settlements north of Kherson.
On the afternoon of November 11, Kyiv announced that Ukrainian troops had moved to the village of Vlahodatne, about 12 miles north of the city of Kherson.
The report appeared to contradict Russian Defense Ministry statements that Russian artillery and aircraft had blocked the advance of Ukrainian forces 20 to 25 miles from the river crossing.
Moscow: ‘no change’ to territorial status
When Russian troops withdrew from their positions north of the Dnipro, the Kremlin stressed that the move did not reflect a change in the territorial status of the Kherson region, the capital of which is the city of Kherson.
“this [Kherson] Subject to the Russian Federation. It is legally laid down and defined, ”said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “There is no change. There can be no change.”
On September 30, the Kherson region was incorporated into the Russian Federation, along with the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhia, after controversial referendums were held in all four regions.
Kyiv and its Western allies have refused to recognize annexation by Russia, but Ukrainian officials have repeatedly promised to restore all four regions by force.
Military officials in Kyiv have also vowed to recapture the Black Sea region of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in a 2014 referendum.
Of the four regions annexed in September, Kherson is considered the most strategically important because, together with the mouth of the Dnipro River, it controls the only land route to Crimea.
Most of Kherson, including the capital, was occupied by Russian forces in the first weeks of the civil war, which began on 24 February.
Withdraw “Right Judgment”
Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Russian Duma’s Committee on International Affairs, said the withdrawal across the Dnipro was “the right decision” in light of the reality on the ground.
“We will definitely come back to Kherson,” he told Russia’s TASS news agency on November 11.
“No one is going to give up Kherson completely,” Slutsky said. “Russia leaves no one behind.”
In a meeting with Russian military leaders on November 9, Slovikin justified the decision to withdraw, saying it was aimed at preserving the lives and combat capabilities of the Russian military.
According to Slovikin, the withdrawal will also allow Russian forces currently deployed in Kherson to move to other key areas along a front line approximately 680 miles long.
In an interview on November 10, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov speculated that Russia could redeploy some of its troops from Kherson to nearby Zaporizhia.
Russian forces now control a large swath of Zaporizhia, along with most of Donetsk and Luhansk in the east, which make up the Russian-speaking Donbass region.
Reznikov also predicted that with the onset of winter there would likely be a temporary lull in ground fighting. “Winter will slow down all activity on the battlefield,” he said.
He went on to argue that the Ukrainian army would be stronger after the winter hiatus after being reinforced by new troops now being trained in Britain.
“We will use this time to get the best possible result for the army, including restructuring, refreshment and rotation, and prepare well,” Reznikov said.
Reuters contributed to this report.