Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned it will take time to repair infrastructure damaged by Russia’s retreating troops in Kherson and urged residents to be vigilant as forces continue to de-mine the city and surrounding areas.
“Before fleeing from Kherson, the occupiers destroyed all critical infrastructure — communication, water supply, heat, electricity,” he said in his overnight address. “We will restore everything, believe me, although it takes time.”
His assessment comes as evidence emerged of the humanitarian toll of Russia’s occupation of the southern city. Residents reported they had been without power, water and electricity for several days before Ukrainian troops arrived.
There were 10 groups of bomb disposal experts working in Kherson at the weekend. One police officer was injured on Saturday while demining an administrative building. They have so far removed almost 2,000 explosives, such as mines, trip wires and unexploded ordnance, Zelenskyy said.
Ihor Klymenko, head of the national police of Ukraine, urged citizens who had left Kherson not to return until Ukrainian forces had completed efforts to secure control of the city and make it safe for residents.
Ukrainian forces had taken back control of 60 towns in the Kherson region, Zelenskyy said. More troops were heading into the region and the city over the weekend.
Reports of extensive damage to a dam north-east of the city highlighted the dangers as Ukrainian forces look to retake control. Images from US satellite company Maxar Imagery, taken on Friday morning, showed considerable damage to the Nova Kakhovka dam, “with sections of the dam and sluice gates destroyed”, it said on Twitter.
It was unclear on Sunday whether the dam’s structural integrity was threatened. Neither side claimed responsibility for the damage.
Russia said on Friday its forces had completed their retreat from the city, the only provincial capital it had captured since President Vladimir Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Saturday called Russia’s retreat “remarkable”.
“It does look as though the Ukrainians have just won an extraordinary victory where the one regional capital that Russia had seized in this war is now back under a Ukrainian flag,” he said.
Sullivan said Russia’s retreat had “broader strategic implications” in southern Ukraine. “Being able to push the Russians across the [Dnipro] river means that the longer-term threats to places like Odesa and the Black Sea coastline are reduced,” he said.
Photos and videos of jubilant Kherson residents continued to be circulated on social media over the weekend, with residents in the city’s central square waving blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and hugging soldiers.
Located on a delta where the Dnipro river flows into the Black Sea, Kherson is a strategically important region that links Crimea, which was annexed by Putin in 2014, and controls the peninsula’s water supply.
Other bridges across the Dnipro have also been damaged, including the Antonivsky bridge, the main crossing. Video footage posted by Russian military bloggers on Telegram on Friday showed sections of the bridge had plunged into the river, forcing some Russian troops to cross on pontoons.
Ukraine has warned that some Russian forces may still be present in the city and surrounding area. Defence intelligence officials said on Friday it suspected that remaining Russian forces had dressed in civilian clothes to try to avoid being captured.
Russian forces are building defensive positions on the eastern bank of the Dnipro, and Russian-installed officials announced that they had set up a new administrative capital in the Kherson region in Henichesk, a port city on the Sea of Azov and deep behind Russian lines.
Separately, the Institute for the Study of War said Russia had set up a new military base, approximately 70km south-east of Kherson, describing it as “an effort to protect their equipment from Ukrainian Himar [artillery rocket system] strikes.”