Ukrainian forces, discovering that Russian troops really are pulling back in southern Kherson region, advanced more than four miles toward regional capital Kherson City on Thursday, retaking more than 100 square miles of land and reclaiming 12 municipalities, Ukraine's military said. But they are moving slowly, "advancing into heavily mined towns and villages, and navigating around bridges the Russians blew up to cover their withdrawal," The New York Times reports. "Heavy fighting continues in some places."
When Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered Russian forces to withdraw from Kherson City and all other occupied territory west of the Dnipro River on Wednesday, Ukrainians were skeptical, fearing a trap. On Thursday, Ukraine's military said the retreat is real, but Russia is doing its best to make sure it will be painful for Ukraine, too.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Russia has mined every inch of Kherson and will shell the city after retreating to the Dnipro's east (or left) bank, turning it into a "city of death." Another Ukrainian government adviser told The Associated Press that "the Russians can definitely organize some traps in Kherson still, but they never had enough troops or logistics" to hold their positions.
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Because Ukraine has systematically destroyed bridges and other Dnipro crossings, it will take Russia "days and maybe even weeks" to pull its troops across the river, U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said Tuesday night.
"The main question is whether the Ukrainians will give the Russians the opportunity to calmly withdraw, or fire at them during the crossing to the left bank," Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov told AP. Kyiv says "the Ukrainians have been attacking the retreating forces," the Times reports. "As they break cover and pull back, the Russian soldiers are more vulnerable."
A forced withdrawal from Kherson, a strategically and symbolically important Black Sea port and the first and only regional capital Russia captured since invading in February, is the latest embarrassing defeat for the Kremlin. "Russian President Vladimir Putin, who just over a month ago celebrated the annexation of Kherson and three other Ukrainian regions and vowed to defend them by any means, has not commented on the withdrawal," AP notes.
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