Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russian soldiers of committing war crimes and killing civilians in Kherson, which Ukraine took back last week.
“Investigators have already documented more than 400 Russian war crimes. Bodies of dead civilians and military have been found,” Zelenskyy said in his late-night video address on Sunday, without specifying the locations where the bodies were discovered.
“The Russian military left behind the same savagery that it left behind in other regions of the country it entered,” he said.
Zelenskyy’s allegations could not immediately be verified. Russia denies that its troops intentionally target civilians.
Mass graves have been found in various places in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion, including the bodies of civilians showing evidence of torture discovered in the northeastern region of Kharkiv and in Bucha, near the capital Kyiv. Ukraine has accused Russian troops of committing the crimes.
A United Nations commission in October said war crimes had been committed in Ukraine and that Russian forces were responsible for the “vast majority” of human rights violations in the first weeks of the war.
Ukrainians in Kherson expressed a deep sense of relief after the withdrawal of Russian forces on Friday after months of occupation.
The region was one of four that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed in September, a move described as illegal by Kyiv and denounced by Western countries.
Some residents accused the Russians of laying mines and looting, including stealing animals from a zoo, before retreating.
“God will punish them. All of them. For everything they did,” said Svitlana Vilna, 47.
No water, energy
Ukrainian troops arrived in the southern city of Kherson after Russia abandoned the regional capital, which fell shortly after the February 24 invasion.
The withdrawal marked the third significant Russian withdrawal of the war and followed a major Ukrainian counteroffensive that had retaken parts of the east and south.
Most homes in the Ukrainian city still lack electricity and water, regional officials said, and artillery exchanges continued to echo through the city.
“We are happy now, but we are all afraid of shelling from the left bank,” said Yana Smyrnova, a 35-year-old singer who was in the city’s main square, referring to the Russian guns on the city’s east side. Dnieper river.
Many residents, some draped in Ukrainian flags, queued for food and used Starlink satellite internet to connect with relatives.
“I need to get in touch with my family,” Klavdia Mych, a retired teacher, told the AFP news agency.
“We’ve been without water for a week,” added the 69-year-old. “And they say that everything is mined. It’s very scary.”
Governor of the Kherson region Yaroslav Yanushevych said authorities decided to maintain a curfew from 5:00 p.m. local time (3:00 p.m. GMT) to 8:00 a.m. (06:00 GMT) and ban entry and leaving the city as a security measure. .
“The enemy mined all critical infrastructure,” Yanushevich told Ukrainian television. “We are trying to meet in a few days and [then] open the city,” he said.
Zelenskyy also warned Kherson residents about the presence of Russian mines. “I ask you please not to forget that the situation in the Kherson region is still very dangerous,” he said.
Authorities reported some initial progress in restoring normalcy to the city, whose prewar population was about 290,000.
Presidential adviser Kyrylo Tymoshenko said on Telegram that a mobile connection was already working in the city center, while the head of Ukraine’s state railways said train services to Kherson were expected to resume this week.
Residents said the Russians had gradually left over the past two weeks, but their final departure became clear when the first Ukrainian troops entered the city of Kherson on Thursday.
“It was a gradual thing,” said Alexii Sandakov, 44, a cameraman. “First it was his special police. Then the ordinary police and their administration. Then you started seeing fewer soldiers in the supermarkets and then their military vehicles were driving away.”
Many residents interviewed by the Reuters news agency said they had tried to minimize their contact with the Russians and knew of people who had been arrested and abused for showing any expression of Ukrainian patriotism.
Sandakov said Russian troops had looted the homes of Ukrainian soldiers who left the city before the takeover and were inspecting the bodies of young men passing through checkpoints for tattoos of Ukrainian nationalist groups.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said it had recaptured 179 settlements and 4,500 square kilometers (1,700 square miles) along the Dnieper River since the start of the week.
The reconquest of the city opens a gateway for Ukraine to the entire Kherson region, with access to both the Black Sea in the west and the Sea of Azov in the east.
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