KHERSON – Utility companies in Kherson were working to restore critical infrastructure mined by fleeing Russian forces, with most homes in the southern Ukrainian city still without electricity and water, regional officials said on Sunday.
The governor of Kherson region, Mr Yaroslav Yanushevych, said the authorities had decided to maintain a curfew from 5pm to 8am and ban people from leaving or entering the city, as a security measure.
“The enemy mined all critical infrastructure objects,” Mr Yanushevych told Ukrainian TV. “We are trying to meet within a few days and (then) open the city,” he said, adding that he hoped mobile phone operators could start working on Sunday.
Ukrainian troops arrived in the centre of Kherson on Friday after Russia abandoned the only regional capital it had captured since its invasion in February.
The withdrawal marked the third major Russian retreat of the war and the first to involve yielding such a large occupied city in the face of a major Ukrainian counter-offensive that has retaken parts of the east and south.
Another regional official said, however, that while mine clearance was under way and the authorities were working to restore critical services, in humanitarian terms the situation in the city “remains very difficult”.
“Most houses have no electricity, no water and problems with gas supplies,” Mr Yuriy Sobolevskiy, first deputy chairman of Kherson regional council, told Ukrainian TV.
But many locals said they felt a great sense of relief after Kyiv wrested back control of the city.
‘Twenty years younger’
Earlier on Saturday, on the road to Kherson, villagers holding flowers waited to greet and kiss Ukrainian soldiers as they poured in to secure control of the west bank of the Dnipro River after the stunning Russian retreat.
“We’ve become 20 years younger in the last two days,” said Madam Valentyna Buhailova, 61, just before a Ukrainian soldier jumped out of a small truck and hugged her and her companion Nataliya Porkhunuk, 66, in a hamlet near the centre of Kherson.
In the formerly occupied village of Pravdyne, outside Kherson, returning locals embraced their neighbours, with some unable to hold back tears.
“Victory, finally!” said Madam Svitlana Galak, who lost her eldest daughter in the war.
“Thank God we’ve been liberated and everything will now fall into place,” said the 43-year-old.
On Sunday, residents in Kherson queued to get food, and many adults and children walked around wrapped in Ukrainian flags.
Some gathered in the city’s main square, mostly to use Starlink satellite Internet and connect with relatives.
“They took everything with them. They cleared out the stores,” said Ms Viktoria Dybovska, 30, a sales clerk.
“They switched off the lights three or four days ago just as they were leaving. They simply vanished overnight,” said Ms Antonina Vysochenko, 29.
Mr Oleksandr Todorchuk, founder of UAnimals, an animal rights movement, said the Russian troops had stolen animals from a local zoo.
“They have taken most of the zoo’s collection to Crimea: from llamas and wolves to donkeys and squirrels,” he said on Facebook.
President Volodymyr Zelensky credited Ukraine’s success in Kherson and elsewhere in part to stiff resistance in the Donetsk region, despite repeated Russian attacks.
“There it is just hell – there are extremely fierce battles there every day,” he said in his regular evening video address on Saturday.
Volleys of artillery fire still surrounded the international airport, and police said they were setting up checkpoints in and around the city and sweeping for mines left behind.
Ukraine’s police chief Igor Klymenko said on Saturday that around 200 officers were erecting roadblocks and recording “crimes of the Russian occupiers”.
He urged Kherson residents to watch out for possible landmines laid by the Russian troops, saying one policeman had been wounded while de-mining an administrative building.
A woman and two children were taken to hospital with injuries after an explosive device went off near their car in the village of Mylove, police said. REUTERS, AFP