Ukrainian troops cautiously enter Kherson while Russia declares its hasty withdrawal complete
Russia’s military said Friday it had completed its withdrawal from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, the only regional capital that Vladimir Putin’s invading army has managed since Putin’s conquestEnd of February. The military said “not a single piece of military equipment” was left on the west bank of the Dnipro River, which bisects the wider Kherson region, on the west bank of which lies the city of the same name.
In a statement, military commanders in Moscow said “all Russian soldiers crossed” the river without suffering “losses of personnel, weapons, military equipment and materiel.” The announcement came just two days after Russia’s defense chiefhis supreme commander in Ukraine telling him in a televised interview that making the call was “not easy” but that it “would save the lives of our military”.
There was no immediate message from Ukrainian or US military officials to confirm the Russian announcement, but Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko told CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay that his country’s armed forces were in the city of Kherson on Friday morning. He previously tweeted that Ukrainian troops were “already in Kherson.”
Images quickly appeared on social media showing the Ukrainian national flag in front of the regional administration building. Videos showed civilians hugging Ukrainian soldiers and helping them hang Ukrainian flags on other buildings, including the city’s police headquarters.
There have been claims by Ukrainian civilians on social media that some Russian troops have changed into civilian clothes and stayed behind, and Ukrainian troops are entering cautiously, wary of mines and booby traps.
Ukrainian and US officials have been skeptical of the Russian withdrawal announcement from the moment it was released on Wednesday, suggesting it could be a trap to lure Ukrainian forces east, towards entrenched Russian positions on the east bank of the Dnipro.
On Thursday night in Ukraine, US officials told CBS News they had seen no signs of Russian troops crossing the river in any significant numbers. CBS News national security correspondent David Martin said this shouldn’t necessarily be taken as evidence that the announcement of the withdrawal was a ruse, just that it was likely to take time.
While there was no official confirmation of the status of the Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian commanders, unconfirmed videos released online showed what appeared to be Russian troops crossing a pontoon bridge over the Dnipro on foot. The bridge was right next to the larger Antonivskiy Bridge, which was completely unusable on several videos with a large part destroyed.
Although it was not immediately clear what caused the road bridge to collapse, BBC News reported that the key piece of infrastructure had been “gradually damaged by Ukrainian missiles” during the months-long occupation of the city of Kherson and much of the surrounding region.
Russia’s invading forces have suffered setbacks in recent months, withdrawing from towns and villages west of Kherson and areas north of that region amid a Ukrainian counter-offensive bolstered by the huge influx of western arms.
While Ukraine’s advance has quickly pushed back the Russians, the US has been reluctant to meet the country’s demands for even more advanced weapons systems, and many analysts expect the rapid shift in frontlines of recent months to slow as winter sets in and Russia entrenches itself in positions , which it has held for years in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers, just a few kilometers from enemy lines, have used western-supplied drones to target Russian positions. But the Russians also see the Ukrainians coming.
Russia is relative– has shown that he is relying on long-range missile and drone attacks to hit civilian areas to lower Ukrainian morale.
The strikes have cut off electricity and water supplies to millions of Ukrainians, and as CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay reports, retreating Russian forces have also left a deadly trail of land mines and booby traps in their wake.
Even if Ukraine confirms that Russian forces have withdrawn from Kherson, the Russian threat will still be holed up across the river with its indiscriminate firepower. And despite mounting calls for peace talks, there is little to indicate the war that has raged for more than eight months andis nearing the end.
US officials estimate that the war has claimed the lives of about 40,000 Ukrainian civilians so far, while about 100,000 of the country’s armed forces have been killed or injured. Russian forces are believed to have suffered a similar number of casualties.
CBS News Producer Erin Lyall contributed to this report.