President Volodomyr Zelensky visiting the formerly occupied city of Kherson on Monday Nov. 14, 2022. Photo by Finbarr O'Reilly for The New York Times.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made a surprise visit to the liberated city of Kherson on Monday, after more than eight months of Russian occupation.
During the president’s visit, Zelensky declared the city’s recapture “the beginning of the end of the war.”
Kherson, a crucial port in the Black Sea and gateway to Crimea, was one of the first major cities to fall to Russian forces after February’s invasion. But Russia announced their retreat from the city in an effort to save resources on Friday, despite annexing Kherson, Donetsk, Lugansk and Zaporizhia in violation of international laws on Sept. 30.
The Dnipro river that divides the Kherson region is the new front line as Russian forces still control roughly 60% of the area south and east of the river, according to a Nov. 11 CNN report.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov told APNews,“Kherson is a key to the entire southern region, which would allow Ukraine to target key supply routes for the Russian forces. Russians will try to retain control of it using all means.”
Ukraine’s renewed control of Kherson also means the Zaporizhia region and other areas in the south are now within reach, and could eventually find a way to push back into Crimea. Zelensky addressed this success to a crowd of soldiers and Ukrainians in Kherson’s main square during which they raised their flag and sang Ukraine’s national anthem.
"We are coming step by step to all the temporarily occupied territories of our country. Of course, it is difficult, it is a long and hard path. The best heroes of our country are in this war," said Zelensky. He also told soldiers they had "proved it was impossible to kill Ukraine", before holding a minute's silence for the dead.
Despite Ukraine’s flag flying again, the Kremlin still regards the region as part of the Russian Federation. The Kremlin has also previously stated the four annexed regions are non-negotiable in regard to peace talks with Ukraine.
“I want the Kiev authorities and their true handlers in the West to hear me now, and I want everyone to remember this: the people living in Lugansk and Donetsk, in Kherson and Zaporozhye have become our citizens, forever,” said President Vladimir Putin during the annexation ceremony in Moscow on Sept. 30.
Days before Russia’s withdrawal, President Biden spoke at a White House news conference on Wednesday, “It remains to be seen whether Ukraine is willing to compromise.”
However, Zelensky has also called for peace, and recently eased up on some of Ukraine’s terms to get to the negotiating table. "We are ready for peace, but peace for our whole country," he said. "This is the territory of our entire country... That is why we are fighting Russian aggression."
President Zelensky reiterated that Ukraine is fighting to recover the country’s entirety and will continue its campaign to reclaim its territory from Russian occupation. The liberation of Kherson is a significant success, but Zelensky told soldiers that Ukraine is “moving forward” on a “long and difficult path.”
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