Moscow (CNSNews.com) – The Russian military has announced its withdrawal from the southern city of Kherson and the adjacent settlements on the right bank of the Dnieper river, territory which it captured during the early days of the conflict and since then sought to annex.
The announcement was made by General Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, during a nationally televised strategy briefing on Thursday.
Surovikin said Russian troops could no longer properly supply Kherson or ensure the safety of local civilians due to constant Ukrainian shelling. He asserted that the only viable option was for Russian forces to pull back from the city and establish a new defensive line along the left bank of the Dnieper River.
“I understand that this is a very difficult decision, but it will allow us to preserve the lives of our soldiers and maintain their combat effectiveness,” he said. “At the same time, it will free up manpower and weaponry that can be used for other actions, including offensive ones, in different parts of the front.”
Several hours before the statement, videos posted on social media showed Russian flags being lowered from administrative buildings in Kherson. There were also reports of Russian troops blowing up bridges near the frontline.
Some Ukrainian officials have expressed skepticism about the Russian military’s announced withdrawal, however.
“Actions speak louder than words. We see no signs that Russia is leaving Kherson without a fight,” tweeted Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “A part of the Russian group is preserved in the city, and additional reserves are charged to the region.”
With a pre-conflict population of 290,000 people, Kherson is the only regional capital in Ukraine to have been captured by Russian troops since the outbreak of hostilities in February.
The city was a strategic prize for Russian forces since it provided them with a foothold that theoretically could have been used to launch a major offensive aimed at cutting Ukraine off from access to the Black Sea.
The nearby Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant was also an important asset for Russia due to its role in ensuring fresh water supplies to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Shortly after the annexation, the Ukrainian government built a dam that cut off water in Crimea, causing significant damage to the region’s agricultural sector.
After capturing Kherson in early March, the Kremlin appointed a military-civil administration in the region and began replacing the Ukrainian hryvnia with the Russian ruble as the official currency.
In late September, it moved to formally annex Kherson and three other regions, following referendums whose legitimacy have been disputed by the West.
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly vowed to retake Kherson. Kyiv launched a large-scale counteroffensive in late August following months of planning and artillery strikes against Russian logistical infrastructure.
Although the Ukrainians initially struggled to take ground in Kherson from well-entrenched Russian troops, they achieved their first breakthrough in the region early last month.
Shortly thereafter, Russian-appointed officials in Kherson began mass evacuations of civilians to the left bank of the Dnieper. At the same time, they vowed that Russian forces would not give up Kherson city without a fight.
News of Russia’s apparent withdrawal caused significant consternation among Russian war correspondents and military bloggers.
Maxim Fomin, a soldier fighting with pro-Russian Donbass forces, called the loss a “strategic defeat,” but admitted that he wasn’t sure Russian forces could have held on to the city under the current circumstances.
“My personal opinion is that we should have put up a battle for Kherson,” he said in a video on Telegram. “At the same time, who would remain on that side of the river to face certain death?”