Speed Reads

Bittersweet Symphony

Ukrainian forces welcomed in liberated Kherson by cheering crowds, Russian sabotage and plunder

Ukrainian forces swept into Kherson, the regional capital of southern Kherson province, over the weekend following Russia's unexpectedly quick, deeply humiliating retreat from the city and all Ukrainian land west of the Dnipro River. They were greeted by cheering, sometimes weeping residents wearing Ukrainian flags and hugging soldiers — and sometimes reporters, as CNN's Nic Robertson discovered. The celebration lasted all weekend.

But Ukrainian authorities also found that Russia had looted and destroyed infrastructure in the city before pulling out, leaving Kherson with no power, heat, water, or cellphone service. "There's a critical lack of water in the city," Roman Holovnya, an adviser to Kherson's mayor, told Ukrainian television. "There's a lack of medicines, there's a lack of bread, because it can't be baked as there's no electricity." He said about a quarter of Kherson's prewar population of 320,000 inhabitants remain in the city. 

Ukraine's government is sending stoves and firewood to liberated Kherson, and humanitarian convoys of food and medicine are coming from nearby cities, but Russian soldiers blew up nearly a mile of the electric network, destroyed the TV broadcast tower, and took parts from cellphone towers. "We will restore everything, believe me," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his Saturday night address. He said about 2,000 mines, tripwires, and unexploded munitions have already been cleared from the region. Ukrainian police arrived in Kherson on Saturday.

Zelensky said Sunday night that investigators have already uncovered more than 400 war crimes in liberated Kherson. "In the Kherson region, the Russian army left behind the same atrocities as in other regions of our country, where it was able to enter," he said. "We will find and bring to justice every murderer. Without a doubt."

The Russians also pillaged the city, stealing fire and utility trucks, washing machines, hundreds of works of art from the Kherson Art Museum, the bones of 18th century Russian general Grigory Potemkin, and seven raccoons, two wolves, peacocks, a llama, and a donkey from the Kherson Zoo, The Washington Post reports. The theft of raccoons provided a moment of dark levity among the other plunder and tragedy.