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Amid Joy in Kherson, a Humanitarian Disaster Looms

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KHERSON, Ukraine – Ukrainian soldiers worked to secure the city of Kherson on Saturday and fought Russian forces on its outskirts, the military said, a day after Ukrainian special forces entered the southern port city of what Enthusiastic cheers erupted from the residents who had endured months of Russian occupation.

Despite the Russian withdrawal, Ukrainian military intelligence said on Saturday that Russian soldiers remained in fixed defensive positions and it was unclear whether they would fight, flee or surrender.

As Ukrainian troops entered the city, the scale of the humanitarian crisis, including water and electricity shortages, became apparent. Nevertheless, on the second day, residents flooded the streets in celebration.

The jubilant sounds of cheers and car horns mingled with the occasional explosion from artillery looming on the outskirts of the city. The military also said Ukrainian forces were clearing mines and explosives left by withdrawing Russian troops and searching for Russian soldiers who may be hiding in abandoned homes.

The party that started in the city’s central square on Friday continued as night fell and the city went dark, with power outages caused by an electrical cable blown up during the fighting.

Ukrainian songs banned under the occupation blared from the speakers. People cheered and sang as they danced to the light of car headlights and flashlights. Couples hugged and swayed to the slow song of Ukrainian band Oceans of Elza, marking small pockets of hope for the never-ending war.

Kherson is the center of a pre-war city with a population of hundreds of thousands, and most of the time it lacks heat, water, electricity, medicine and mobile phone service. One Ukrainian official called it a “humanitarian catastrophe.” And on Saturday, the celebrations are increasingly overshadowed by reports of an explosion at a key dam some 40 miles to the northeast.

Looming to the east are Russian forces and their artillery formations, largely intact after a highly publicized recent withdrawal. Officials set up by the Kremlin that had occupied Kherson announced on Saturday that they had set up a new administrative capital in the seaside resort of Genichesk, about 110 miles from Russian military lines.

The sudden change, caused by Russia’s crushing defeat on the battlefield, came less than a month and a half after Moscow annexed the region and moved its capital to the city of Kherson.

City residents were still processing Saturday’s fast-moving events. Until just one day before him, they hid the Ukrainian flag from Russian soldiers. Now they dressed in the blue and gold of the flag and hugged Ukrainian soldiers in the streets.

“People are walking down the street and congratulating each other,” said Serhiy, a retiree who asked not to publish his last name for security reasons. “It’s just a holiday!”

A Ukrainian special forces soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, described the moment as an outburst of emotions. It said it was considering how much work had been done and how many soldiers had died in the process.

Another Ukrainian soldier, a foreign volunteer, said their arrival in the city was like “Paris in 1944.”

But amidst the celebrations, the serious scale of the humanitarian crisis in the region was highlighted on Saturday. Many people in Kherson have no heating, electricity or running water. Food and medicine are in short supply. Ukrainian military officials said the city was not yet safe for large-scale humanitarian relief operations.

Adding to the growing list of humanitarian concerns, a Russian news agency affiliated with the Kremlin released a video on Saturday showing the area of ​​the Kahivska hydroelectric power plant, part of the Kahova Dam Complex, about 40 miles northeast. claimed to indicate a large explosion in of Kherson.

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It’s unclear when the explosion occurred, but local residents said they heard a loud explosion on Friday afternoon.

President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, expressed cautious optimism on Saturday about Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson, calling it a “big moment” for the Ukrainian military. He also reiterated that the Biden administration would not push for a diplomatic end to the war.

As the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, began pressuring the Ukrainian military this week to consider capitalizing on that momentum by negotiating an end to fighting before winter sets in, the U.S. A crack in the government leaked to the public. Mr. Biden’s advisers, including Mr. Sullivan, have openly refuted any proposals to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to cede territory to Russian aggressors.

“Ukraine is a party to peace in this conflict and Russia is a party to the war,” Sullivan said. “Russia invaded Ukraine. If Russia chose to stop fighting in Ukraine and withdraw, it would be the end of the war. If Ukraine stopped fighting and gave up, it would be the end of Ukraine.”

He said what happened in Kherson has not changed the regime’s position, partly because Moscow continues to insist on annexing the territory.

Natalia Khmeniuk, spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Army Southern Command, said some Russian soldiers in and around the city of Kherson are still actively engaging Ukrainian forces. She said there were also reports of Russian soldiers surrendering to the Ukrainians, or even changing into plain clothes and hiding in apartments.

“It’s very difficult to say at the moment how many forgotten soldiers are left,” she said in an interview with Freedom TV, a Ukrainian Russian-language channel that focuses on broadcasting abroad.

She added that Ukrainian forces were “a stone’s throw away” from Russian forces that were fortifying positions on the other side of the Dnipro River, making them vulnerable to artillery fire. The Ukrainian military also reported fighting in towns and villages outside Kherson, including around the endangered dam in the city of Nova Kakhovka.

As the winter months rapidly approach, military analysts are divided on whether Ukrainian forces can continue to retake territory despite the fate of the war and the logistical difficulties associated with bitterly cold weather. are divided.

Russia continues to carry out well-orchestrated airstrikes against Ukraine’s energy grid, crippling critical services across the country. In the mineral-rich Donbass region, Russian forces have shrunk by building a coordinated ring of earthworks after their defeat in the northeast in September, although they are still under attack in some areas.

Yet the jubilation was mixed with concern for the Russian army.

Colonel Roman Kostenko, a parliamentarian serving in the Ukrainian army, said the risk of a retaliatory bombing of Kherson was high. “They will shell the city,” he said.

Rybar, an influential pre-war Russian military blog, posted a video published by a Russian outlet and claimed that Russian forces attacked the Cahova Dam complex on Friday. Other Russian media outlets blamed Ukrainians.

The road over the dam in the town of Nova Kakhovka was the last major crossing left for Russian forces in the area. It’s also critical infrastructure to hold back bodies of water the size of Utah’s Great Salt He Lake.

For weeks, Ukraine and Russia have warned that the other side would try to damage the dam. , because doing so would affect both armies currently on opposite banks of the Dnipro.

Satellite images showed damage to the area around the dam between Thursday and Friday, when Russian troops withdrew.

Recently, as Russia’s position has become more precarious, Moscow has accused Ukraine of planning to destroy the dam.

Kyiv has no incentive to flood their land, no evidence of Russian accusations, a sign that Russia is preparing a “false flag operation” to blow up the dam itself, and 80 towns, It states that villages and villages may be flooded. Cities including Kherson.

“Russia is deliberately laying the groundwork for a large-scale disaster in southern Ukraine,” Zelensky said in a speech to the European Council last month.

Andrew E. Kramer Reported from Kherson, Ukraine, Mark Santora Kyiv, Ukraine, Katie Rogers Originally from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.The report was contributed by Thomas Gibbons Neff in Wakefield, Rhode Island, Maria Varenikova When Anna Lukinova Kyiv and Christian Tribert in New York.

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