Kherson: No water, no electricity, no internet – only ecstasy in the newly liberated Ukrainian city

Kherson, Ukraine

For eight months, the residents of the Ukrainian city of Kherson have been living under brutal Russian occupation. But Ukrainian forces stormed the city on Friday and Russian forces retreated to the east.

Residents have no water, no internet, and little power. But as the CNN crew rolled into town on Saturday, the mood was buoyant.

While filming the crew live in Kherson’s central square, some in the crowd of locals sang the national anthem while others shouted “Slava Ukraine!” Glory to Ukraine national salute.

“We feel free, we are not slaves, we are Ukrainians,” Olga, a resident of the area, told CNN.

Locals were also climbing the tops of buildings, including the cinema, in the square to erect Ukrainian flags. Soldiers who drive are greeted by cheers and asked to sign autographs on the flags.

The residents said that when the Russian troops intervened at the beginning of the war, this was a city that tried to resist: people were taken away, tortured and disappeared.

“We were terrified of [the] “The Russian army, we were terrified of soldiers who could come at any moment into our house, into our house – just open the door, as if they live here, steal, kidnap and torture,” Olga said.

But now, people flock to the central square of the newly liberated city, draped in Ukrainian flags, singing and chanting “Freedom to Ukraine.”

“Everyone is out here celebrating in the square here. People wear the Ukrainian flag, they hug the soldiers, they go out to see what it feels like to be free,” Robertson said.

Katrina described Tahrir as the “best day” of her life after eight months under Russian occupation. “Our town is free, our street is free,” she told CNN.

Another local, Andrew, said he was very happy to see the Ukrainian soldiers.

I think a lot of people were killed here. “We don’t know that yet,” he said of the period under occupation.

A Ukrainian special forces soldier, named only Daniel, told CNN how his unit was the first to arrive in Kherson. “The two leaders put the flag on top of the building,” he said.

“It was a real blast for us, finally. Before the eleventh [of November]It was five days of hard work, real hard work. Ukrainian soldiers, as always, once again confirmed that they are stronger than the Russians. ”

He added that civilians in Kherson were the “real heroes” for a long time under Russian occupation. “I can’t imagine how happy they are now,” he said.

The CNN team appears to be the first international journalist to arrive in Kherson city center since it was changed hands in the past 48 hours.

On Friday, Russia announced its withdrawal from the western bank of the Dnipro River in the strategic southern Kherson region, leaving the regional capital of the same name and its surroundings to the Ukrainians.

The withdrawal represents a major blow to Putin’s war effort in Ukraine. Kherson was the only Ukrainian regional capital captured by Russian forces since the invasion in February. Their withdrawal east across the Dnipro River cedes vast swathes of territory Russia had occupied since the early days of the war, which Putin had officially declared as Russian territory just five weeks earlier.

“It was a really tough time for everyone. Every Ukrainian family is waiting for our soldiers and our army,” a Kherson resident told CNN Saturday, referring to Russia’s months-long occupation.

The woman said it was great to see Ukrainian troops in Kherson.

“We felt your support every day, thank you very much,” the woman added before hugging Robertson.

On Saturday, the head of the regional military administration, Yaroslav Yanushevich, said in a video message that the Ukrainian authorities are working to return the city to “normal life,” adding that the city, oblast and district military departments have arrived in the city and started their tasks. .

The National Police and Security Service of Ukraine have also taken over their duties. The State Emergency Service is clearing mines. “We are working to get the city back to normal life,” Janusevich said.

The Ukrainian National Police said in a statement on Saturday that about 200 police officers are currently working in the city.

“Roadblocks have been erected around and within the Kherson Territory. The region’s police continue to record the crimes of the Russian occupiers.”

The main threat comes from the mines, police said, adding that explosives technicians are working to detect and dispose of them. “A police explosives expert was injured today while removing mines from an administrative building in Kherson,” the police said.

The police said that residents who left Kherson were advised “not to rush back until the stabilization procedures are completed.”

Speaking on Saturday about the Ukrainian military’s next steps, CNN military analyst Cedric Layton said: “This is going to be a major urban operation. What you will see is a systematic process of clearing buildings of potential booby traps and mines.”

“The other thing the Ukrainians will have to do is they will have to move their systems forward so that they can counter any potential Russian artillery that will be on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.

You can see that the Ukrainians have moved to that river, and now they are in control of that area, and they will have to get rid of some of the remaining Russian forces that have not managed to get out of the west bank of the Dnipro. But those who are there will likely either give up or be eliminated from the fight.”

People gather at Maidan Square to celebrate the liberation of Kherson, in the capital, Kyiv, on Friday.

On Friday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky released a nightly video of celebrations in the city, in which a crowd waved flags and chanted “ZSU,” the Ukrainian acronym for the armed forces.

Earlier that day, the Ukrainian Army’s Southern Operational Command said that Russian forces were “urgently loading into boats that seemed suitable for crossing and attempting to escape” across the river.

It was not clear whether all Russian forces had left Kherson and the region in general. Serhiy Klan, a member of Ukraine’s Kherson Regional Council, said the city was “almost under the control of the Ukrainian armed forces,” but cautioned that some Russian forces may have remained in civilian clothes.

He warned that many Russian forces “have given up their military uniforms, and are now hiding in civilian clothes.”

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