Western officials welcomed Russia’s retreat from the Ukrainian city of Kherson, labeled a “big moment” by the White House and “another strategic failure” for Moscow by the U.K.
Ukrainian troops on Friday entered Kherson, the only provincial capital to be taken by Russia in its invasion. The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed in a video that Moscow’s troops had been withdrawn from the Ukrainian city and other territories on the western bank of the Dnipro River, in a huge blow to President Vladimir Putin’s war effort.
“It has broader strategic implications as well,” U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said, “because being able to push the Russians across the river means that the longer-term threat to places like Odesa and the Black Sea coastline are reduced from where they were before.”
“And so this is a big moment. And it’s certainly not the end of the line, but it’s a big moment,” the top White House official told reporters while flying to a Southeast Asian summit in Cambodia, according to a readout published online.
French President Emmanuel Macron called it a “critical step towards the restoration of [Ukraine’s] sovereign rights.”
U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Russia’s retreat “marks another strategic failure for them. In February, Russia failed to take any of its major objectives except Kherson,” according to a statement.
The Ukrainian military said it was overseeing “stabilization measures” around Kherson to make sure it was safe, the Associated Press reported on Saturday. Kyiv was making speedy but cautious efforts to make the city liveable after months of occupation, as one official described it as “a humanitarian catastrophe,” the news outlet said.
“We will restore all conditions of normal life – as much as possible,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address. “Our defenders are immediately followed by policemen, sappers, rescuers, energy workers,” he said. “Medicine, communications, social services are returning.’
Roman Holovnya, an adviser to Kherson’s mayor, said humanitarian aid and supplies had begun to arrive, but that many residents still lacked water, medicine, food and electricity, the AP reported.
“The occupiers and collaborators did everything possible so that those people who remained in the city suffered as much as possible over those days, weeks, months of waiting” for Ukraine’s forces to arrive, Holovnya said. “Water supplies are practically nonexistent,” he said.
“I am moved to tears to witness freedom returning to Kherson,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted on Saturday. “Ukrainians hugging their soldiers, and blue and yellow flags raised.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Saturday said that the “war goes on” after the Ukrainian army’s success. Ahead of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Cambodia, Kuleba also thanked Washington for helping Kyiv against Moscow’s invasion.
“It’s only together that we will be able to prevail and to kick Russia out of Ukraine. We are on the way. This is coming, and our victory will be our joint victory — victory of all peace-loving nations across the world,” Kuleba said.