According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was in Kherson at the time, the liberation of the city signifies the “beginning of the end” of the country’s conflict with Russia.
He informed the soldiers that Ukraine was “going forward” and prepared for peace.
Losing the southern city would be a serious loss for Russia, despite Moscow’s insistence that it is still part of its territory.
It was the only regional capital to have been occupied since the invasion and was designated by Russia as the heart of the illegally annexed Kherson region.
However, pro-Russian banners on the approach to the city and sporadic artillery bursts serve as a reminder that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces are still present.
Weeks after the invasion started in March, Kherson was taken prisoner. Afterward, the region was one of four that were forcibly annexed after phony referendums in September.
Putin declared that the annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson was “non-negotiable” at a ceremony in Moscow. The cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, which were taken by separatists backed by Russia in 2014, are still under Russian control.
Ukraine has made progress in the country’s south over the past few weeks, moving closer to Kherson and applying more pressure to Russian forces.
Russian troops left last week, and on Friday, Ukrainian troops arrived in the city.
Locals were seen reuniting with loved ones they hadn’t seen in months as they celebrated. According to Jeremy Bowen of the BBC, the city was filled with feelings of joy and jubilation as well as apprehension.
Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, echoed that warning when he said it would be a “mistake” to “underestimate Russia.”
He warned Dutch government leaders that the upcoming months would be challenging. “Putin wants to abandon Ukraine in the dead of winter. As a result, we must continue.”
The Ukrainian national song was sung by Mr. Zelensky during his visit on Monday as the flag of the nation was raised over the main administrative building.
According to the Reuters news agency, he addressed the troops that Ukraine was “ready for peace, peace for all our land.”
He expressed gratitude to NATO and other partners for their assistance and added that high mobility artillery rocket systems (Himars) from the US had significantly contributed.
The president also spoke to a crowd that had gathered in the city’s central square, some of whom were waving or carrying Ukrainian flags.
When asked where Ukrainian forces may go forward next, he responded: “Moscow not… The frontiers of another nation don’t interest us.”
The president also made fun of the fact that he had come to Kherson because he “wanted a watermelon,” alluding to the locally produced fruit that has come to be seen as a popular symbol of resistance in Ukraine.
Kherson is substantially unscathed in comparison to other liberated areas. Here, the Kremlin made an effort to legitimize its occupation.
Shops were able to accept Ukrainian hryvnia this week for the first time in a very long time as the city emerged from its own form of lockdown—an harsh eight-month Russian occupation. Previously, they had been compelled to conduct business in Russian roubles.
Employees at a grocery store claimed that Russian soldiers would “come in for free beers” while it was still open during the occupation. The workers stated that if they refused, the troops “said they’d come back and murder us.”
Kherson is a part of Russia, the Kremlin declared in response to Mr. Zelensky’s visit.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, said: “You know, this territory is part of the Russian Federation. We leave this without comment.”