President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said more Ukrainian cities and towns will be liberated amid jubilation in the recaptured southern city of Kherson.
The Ukrainian leader said that after months of Russian occupation and “mockery of our people”, there is a “sea of Ukrainian flags on the streets”.
“The world sees it now. It sees what it means when Ukrainians meet their own people. It sees what the unity of Ukrainians means. And it sees why we should liberate our entire land from the invaders,” he said in his nightly address.
Mr Zelenskyy continued: “We will see many more such greetings. In those cities and villages that are still under occupation. We don’t forget anyone, we won’t leave anyone.
“Thanks to our defence operations and diplomacy, we will definitely reach our state border – all sections of the internationally recognized border of Ukraine.”
He said Ukrainian troops had taken control of more than 60 settlements in the Kherson region.
“Police have launched stabilisation measures. Stabilisation measures are also underway in Kherson,” he said, noting that almost 2,000 mines, trip wires and unexploded shells had been dealt with so far.
He said Putin’s forces destroyed the critical infrastructure in Kherson before fleeing, adding that local authorities were starting to stabilise the city.
But he said the Russians were putting up a much stiffer fight elsewhere, describing the battles in the eastern Donetsk region as hellish.
“(Russians) everywhere have the same goal: to humiliate people as much as possible. But we will restore everything, believe me,” he continued.
Jubilant residents welcomed troops arriving in the centre of the strategic city of Kherson on Friday after Russia abandoned the only regional capital it had captured since the start of the war.
‘Scene of celebration’
Sky’s international correspondent Alex Rossi and his team were among the first foreign journalists to reach the centre since the city was retaken.
He said the city was a “scene of celebration” and that everyone in a uniform had been given a “hero’s welcome”.
The Ukrainian military said it was overseeing “stabilisation measures” in areas around the city to ensure its safety.
Ihor Klymenko, Ukraine’s national police chief, said in a Facebook post on Saturday that around 200 officers were at work in the city, setting up checkpoints and documenting evidence of possible war crimes.
Police teams also were working to identify and neutralise unexploded ordnance.
Ukraine’s communications watchdog said national TV and radio broadcasts had resumed in the city, and an adviser to Kherson’s mayor said humanitarian aid and supplies had begun to arrive from the neighbouring Mykolaiv region.
Speaking on Ukrainian TV, the adviser, Roman Holovnya, described the situation in the city as “a humanitarian catastrophe”.
On Friday, Ukraine’s president praised his people’s resilience, and he delivered a warning to Russian soldiers left behind in the Kherson region.
Moscow still views Kherson as part of Russia
Moscow’s forces still control about 70% of the Kherson region and the Kremlin insisted the withdrawal from Kherson city was not an embarrassment for President Vladimir Putin.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow continues to view the region as part of Russia.
There are fears that the departing Russians will now seek to turn Kherson into a “city of death”, continuing to shell it from their new base across the river – or that they could regroup before launching an attempt to retake the city.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s intelligence agency said on Friday it believed some Russian soldiers stayed behind in Kherson, ditching their uniforms for civilian clothes to avoid detection.
As much of the focus was on southern Ukraine, Russian forces have continued their grinding offensive in Ukraine’s industrial east, targeting the Donetsk region city of Bakhmut.
Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said two civilians were killed and four wounded on Saturday as fighting intensified around Bakhmut and Avdiivka, a small city that has remained in Ukrainian hands throughout the war.