Celebrations in the capital Kyiv have seen crowds gathering, waving flags and chanting of support for the Ukrainian military

President Volodymyr Zelensky has declared that the city of Kherson is back in Ukrainian hands following Russia’s retreat from the key battleground – the only regional capital Putin’s forces had taken since the invasion began.

‘Our people. Ours. Kherson,’ Zelensky wrote on Telegram today as footage showed Ukrainian troops gathering with residents of the city to celebrate the landmark victory.

In an address to the Ukrainian people, the President said: ‘today is a historic day, we are returning the south of our country, returning Kherson’. 

He praised the strength and spirit of the people of Kherson, who he said ‘believed in Ukraine’ despite the ‘threats, repression and abuse of the occupiers’. 

The southern city was liberated today after nine months under Russian occupation in what has been a major blow for the Kremlin.

Ukrainian soldiers were treated to a hero’s welcome by jubilant crowds as they arrived in the city centre throughout the day, with celebrations going on into the night.

An emotional video appears to show locals hoisting a Ukrainian flag on a monument in the city as they support one another and sing together. 

Earlier in the day, young men were filmed victoriously cheering as they raised a flag in the city’s Freedom Square.

Celebrations in the capital Kyiv have seen crowds gathering, waving flags and chanting of support for the Ukrainian military

Celebrations in the capital Kyiv have seen crowds gathering, waving flags and chanting of support for the Ukrainian military

Scenes of jubilation in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv tonight. President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Kherson was 'ours' after Russia announced the completion of its withdrawal from the regional capital

Scenes of jubilation in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv tonight. President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Kherson was ‘ours’ after Russia announced the completion of its withdrawal from the regional capital

Local residents cheer and wave a Ukrainian flag on top of a statue at Freedom Square in Kherson following the withdrawal of Russian troops from the regional capital

Local residents cheer and wave a Ukrainian flag on top of a statue at Freedom Square in Kherson following the withdrawal of Russian troops from the regional capital

Flag-waving locals wept, chanted the name of the Ukrainian armed forces, hugged and kissed troops as they arrived in the city’s main square hours after the bulk of Moscow’s forces fled back across the Dnipro River.

Ukraine’s artillery had pounded river crossings overnight and into the early hours in the hopes of destroying any last Russians trying to flee.

While Russia said it had withdrawn 30,000 troops across the Dnipro River without losing a single soldier, Ukrainians have described a chaotic retreat and pro-Russian war bloggers have described them coming under heavy fire.

Satellite images show the only road route near Kherson across the river, the already damaged Antonivskiy bridge, collapsed, with Russian military bloggers saying it was probably blown up as Russian troops withdrew.

Local reports suggested that Russian troops had been forced to retreat via a makeshift bridge nearby.

A large number of Russian soldiers drowned in the river as they tried to escape and others had changed into civilian clothing, Serhiy Khlan, a Ukrainian regional council deputy said. 

Council member Khlan earlier advised Kherson residents not to leave their homes while searches for remaining Russian troops took place.

People gathered tonight in Maidan Square, Kyiv to celebrate the liberation of Kherson, after Russian troops withdrew

People gathered tonight in Maidan Square, Kyiv to celebrate the liberation of Kherson, after Russian troops withdrew

A child holds a Ukranian flag as people gather in Maidan square, Kyiv, to celebrate the liberation of Kherson

A child holds a Ukranian flag as people gather in Maidan square, Kyiv, to celebrate the liberation of Kherson

Ukrainian troops in Kherson

Ukrainian troops in Kherson

Ukrainian civilians cheer, chant, cry and kiss as they welcome troops to the centre of Kherson, with Kyiv’s military intelligence saying the city is now under their full control

Rumours swirled that thousands of troops might be trapped in the city, but as they day wore on those hopes seemed to be ill-founded.

Fears that Russia could be laying some kind of trap also failed to materialise, perhaps suggesting a disinformation campaign to delay the Ukrainian advance long enough for soldiers to get out. 

As the news settles in of the city’s recapture, Ukrainians have been celebrating across the embattled country.

Videos out of Kherson appear to show locals partying in the streets tonight as they enjoy their first taste of freedom from the Russian occupiers since March.

Celebrations in the capital Kyiv tonight have seen crowds gathering in Maidan Square, or ‘Independence Square’, waving flags and chanting of support for the military.

Ukrainian troops in Kherson

Ukrainian troops in Kherson

Kherson was the first major city to fall to Russia’s troops and the only regional capital they have captured – spending eight months under occupation before being liberated today

The Ukrainian flag was flying over Kherson city centre today as locals began gathering to welcome Kyiv's troops after Russia said it had completed its withdrawal in the early hours

The Ukrainian flag was flying over Kherson city centre today as locals began gathering to welcome Kyiv’s troops after Russia said it had completed its withdrawal in the early hours 

A young girl carrying the national banner was pictured in the centre of Kherson, as Russia left the city eight months after capturing it during the early weeks of the war

A young girl carrying the national banner was pictured in the centre of Kherson, as Russia left the city eight months after capturing it during the early weeks of the war

Ukrainian troops were pictured in the outskirts of the city being greeted by jubilant locals, as officials said the entire city is almost under Kyiv's control

Ukrainian troops were pictured in the outskirts of the city being greeted by jubilant locals, as officials said the entire city is almost under Kyiv’s control

Ukrainians gather on the streets of Kherson to await Ukrainian troops who are now moving through the city after Russia completed its retreat in the early hours

Ukrainians gather on the streets of Kherson to await Ukrainian troops who are now moving through the city after Russia completed its retreat in the early hours

Ukrainian rocket artillery unloads on Russian positions near the city of Kherson as Putin's commanders attempt to get their men out of the city using only pontoons and small boats

Ukrainian rocket artillery unloads on Russian positions near the city of Kherson as Putin’s commanders attempt to get their men out of the city using only pontoons and small boats

Ukraine artillery

Ukraine artillery

Russia is facing potentially ‘huge losses’ in Kherson, an expert has warned, with up to 20,000 men surrounded while Ukraine shells the city heavily (left and right) and advances along multiple routes

The Antonovskiy Bridge, which is the main route out of Kherson, appears to have been completely destroyed overnight

The Antonovskiy Bridge, which is the main route out of Kherson, appears to have been completely destroyed overnight

Ukraine had warned that Russia could be laying a trap for its forces in Kherson, but pressed ahead rapidly with an attack overnight and is now thought to have all-but surrounded the city

Ukraine had warned that Russia could be laying a trap for its forces in Kherson, but pressed ahead rapidly with an attack overnight and is now thought to have all-but surrounded the city

Videos earlier today showed the last of Moscow’s troops crossing the Dnipro as the sun rose, before they blew up the main bridge crossing to stop anyone following. 

‘Kherson returns under control of Ukraine,’ Kyiv’s military intelligence directorate said on Friday afternoon, telling any Russian troops left in the city to give themselves up immediately or risk being destroyed. 

The loss of Kherson represents a major defeat for Putin and his armed forces. It was the sole regional capital captured by his army since the invasion began, and sits in a region he declared to be part of Russia just a few weeks ago. 

Losing Kherson means any Russian assault on Odesa is now all-but impossible. It also means that Ukraine can now strike parts of Crimea – the crown jewel of Russia’s last invasion, in 2014 – with long-range artillery. Kyiv has already said it plans to take the peninsula back. 

Russia is now thought to have taken up defensive positions on the eastern bank of the Dnipro comprising three lines made up of trenches and canals, covered by artillery and backed by reinforcements from Crimea.

A Ukrainian serviceman fires a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft automatic cannon at a frontline in the Kharkiv region today

 A Ukrainian serviceman fires a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft automatic cannon at a frontline in the Kharkiv region today

Western officials briefing journalists last week said they do not expect Ukraine to begin an offensive across the Dnipro any time soon.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted today that Kherson remains part of Russia’s territory – despite Moscow’s troops fleeing from it.

‘This is a subject of the Russian Federation. There are no changes in this and there cannot be changes,’ Peskov said, insisting that Putin had ‘no regrets’ about annexing it.

However, Western military and diplomatic sources cautioned that the Russian military move did not mean all was said and done – even if it was a major victory for Ukraine.

‘It’s definitely a turning point, but it doesn’t mean that Russia has lost or that Ukraine has won,’ said Ben Barry, a senior fellow for land warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. 

‘Russia was still capable of a new offensive or counterattacks. It is far too soon to write them off,’ Barry said.

Ukrainian forces have liberated 41 settlements as they advanced through the south, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his Thursday evening video address.

Sappers and pyrotechnicians were going into areas retaken from Russian forces to rid them of thousands of unexploded landmines and ordnance they left behind, he said.

About 170,000 square kilometres (66,000 square miles) remained to be de-mined, Zelensky said, including in places where there was still fighting and ‘where the enemy will add landmines before its withdrawal, as is the case now with Kherson.’

Ukrainian advance

Ukrainian advance

Ukrainian troops have begun advancing into the area around Kherson city evacuated by Russia mid fears Moscow’s men may be laying a trap for them, uncovering destroyed vehicles along their way (left and right)

Ukrainian advance

Ukrainian advance

A Russian military vehicle painted with war symbols is seen (left) as Ukrainian troops advance into areas previously held by Moscow’s troops, as they appear to withdraw from the region

Kyiv's men are shown liberating the village of Snihurivka, around 30 miles north of Kherson, today after Russian forces began retreating from their positions back across the Dnipro River

Kyiv’s men are shown liberating the village of Snihurivka, around 30 miles north of Kherson, today after Russian forces began retreating from their positions back across the Dnipro River

A Ukrainian soldier based in Kherson takes part in a training exercise as Kyiv's men get ready to advance into the region that Russia has said it is evacuating, amid fears the 'retreat' is actually a trap

A Ukrainian soldier based in Kherson takes part in a training exercise as Kyiv’s men get ready to advance into the region that Russia has said it is evacuating, amid fears the ‘retreat’ is actually a trap

Ukrainian soldiers from the 63 brigade train for trench warfare in the northern Kherson region, as they prepare to advance towards the regional capital in the south after Russia said it was evacuating

Ukrainian soldiers from the 63 brigade train for trench warfare in the northern Kherson region, as they prepare to advance towards the regional capital in the south after Russia said it was evacuating

A Ukrainian tank advances towards the front line in Kherson after Russian commanders said they would be withdrawing, giving up the only regional capital they have taken since the February invasion

A Ukrainian tank advances towards the front line in Kherson after Russian commanders said they would be withdrawing, giving up the only regional capital they have taken since the February invasion

A Ukrainian gunner loads high-calibre rounds into the main gun mounted on top of his tank as he prepared to advance in the Kherson region after Russia said it was retreating

A Ukrainian gunner loads high-calibre rounds into the main gun mounted on top of his tank as he prepared to advance in the Kherson region after Russia said it was retreating

The region’s Ukrainian-appointed governor, Yaroslav Yanushevych, writing on the Telegram messaging app, said Russian troops had ‘taken away public equipment, damaged power lines and wanted to leave a trap behind them’.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskiy, said Russia wanted to turn Kherson into a ‘city of death’, mining everything from apartments to sewers and planning to shell the city from the other side of the river.

A small group of Ukrainian soldiers was shown on Ukraine’s state TV being greeted by joyous residents in the centre of the village of Snihurivka, around 55 km (35 miles) north of Kherson city, with a Ukrainian flag fluttering above the square behind them. Reuters verified the location of the video.

A few kilometres away, in a devastated frontline village reached by Reuters in an area already held by Ukrainian forces, the guns had fallen silent for what residents said was the first quiet night since the war began.

‘We hope the silence means the Russians are leaving,’ said Nadiia Nizarenko, 85. The Russians could be preparing a trap, said Nizarenko’s daughter, Svitlana Lischeniuk, 63.

Still, there was joy. Petro Lupan, a volunteer distributing bread to residents, said he could not find words to express his feelings after he learned of the recapture of Snihurivka.

In the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, 54-year-old Larysa, who had recently fled Kherson to reach Ukrainian-held territory, said she could not reach family in the area.

‘We tried contacting them … but there was no connection. We don’t even know … the fate of our relatives.’

‘We’ve lived in the occupied territories for eight months. The situation there is difficult, especially psychologically. Our village is full of armed Russian soldiers … It is a miracle that we got out … There were tears of happiness when I saw our Ukrainian flag and our soldiers.’

Russian state media and pro-Kremlin war hawks defended the withdrawal from Kherson as a necessary move while acknowledging a heavy blow.

The retreat would leave Moscow with only limited gains to show for a ‘special military operation’ that made it a pariah in the West and, according to a U.S. estimate, has killed or wounded some 100,000 Russian soldiers.

A woman is comforted by servicemen as she cries at the scene of night shelling in Mykolaiv, Ukraine

A woman is comforted by servicemen as she cries at the scene of night shelling in Mykolaiv, Ukraine

Ukrainian Emergency Service rescuers carry the body of a victim found under rubble at the scene of shelling in Mykolaiv

Ukrainian Emergency Service rescuers carry the body of a victim found under rubble at the scene of shelling in Mykolaiv

Police inspect a dead body at the scene of night shelling in Mykolaiv,

Police inspect a dead body at the scene of night shelling in Mykolaiv,

Ukrainian Emergency Service rescuers work at the scene of a building damaged by night shelling in Mykolaiv

Ukrainian Emergency Service rescuers work at the scene of a building damaged by night shelling in Mykolaiv

Rescuers work at a site of a residential building heavily damaged by a Russian missile attack in Mykolaiv

Rescuers work at a site of a residential building heavily damaged by a Russian missile attack in Mykolaiv

Facing losses on the battlefield, Moscow has opened up the possibility of peace negotiations with Kyiv – something the US is said to be quietly pressing for behind the scenes.

American diplomats were said to view the expected slow-down of fighting between the two sides over winter as an opportunity to open up discussions, NBC reported yesterday.

General Mark Milley, chief of the generals staff, backed the idea – saying winter will provide ‘a window of opportunity for negotiation’ provided both sides can agree that victory is not possible by military means.

However, a conflicting report in the New York Times said that European officials were briefing that serious negotiations between the two sides are ‘unlikely in the near future.’

President Zelensky, speaking last night, said the onus is on the Russian side to prove they are genuine about negotiations and he sees ‘no desire’ in Putin to end the fighting.

‘When Russia truly wants peace, we will definitely feel it and see it,’ he said.

‘But you can’t wish for peace with words alone – words are not enough. Stop the war, withdraw from our territory, stop killing people, start reimbursing the damages inflicted on our country. Criminals must be prosecuted. Words are not enough.’

Zelensky said after the annexation of four partially occupied regions of Ukraine to Russia that he will never negotiate with Putin, and will instead hold talks with ‘the next Russian leader’.

He reiterated that determination last night, saying that Putin has done nothing but issue ultimatums to Ukraine since the start of the war – and shows no sign of changing his stance.

Zelensky added: ‘It is only the Kremlin and only one person – the head of the Russian Federation – who is not tired of the war. [Putin] might be tired of life in principle, because of his age, but he is definitely not tired of the war.’

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