November 27, 2022

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Ukrainian troops are advancing south after Russia announced withdrawal, Reuters says

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©Reuters. Ukrainian soldiers ride a 2S7 Pion self-propelled gun as Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues, near a front line in the Kherson region, Ukraine, November 9, 2022. REUTERS/Viacheslav Ratynskyi 2/5

By Jonathan Landay

FRONTLINE NORTH OF KHERSON (Reuters) – Ukrainian troops advanced in the south on Thursday after Moscow ordered one of the biggest withdrawals of the war, although Kyiv remained publicly cautious and warned that fleeing Russians could turn Kherson into a “city of death”.

Ukrainian army chief Valeriy Saluzhnyi said Kyiv could not yet confirm whether Russia was actually withdrawing, but that Ukrainian troops had advanced 7 km (4 miles) in the past 24 hours and recaptured 12 settlements.

“We continue to conduct the offensive operation according to our plan,” he wrote in a post on Telegram.

A small group of Ukrainian soldiers was shown on Ukrainian state television in the center of the village of Snihurivka, some 55 km north of the city of Kherson. They were greeted by dozens of residents in a square, behind them a Ukrainian flag fluttered on a pole. Reuters verified the location of the video.

“Today, November 10, 2022, Snihurivka was liberated by the forces of the 131st Separate Intelligence Battalion. Glory to Ukraine!” declared a commander as locals applauded, cheered and soldiers filmed on their phones.

Petro Lupan, a Ukrainian volunteer who is distributing bread to residents of a nearby stretch of the front line north of Kherson, told Reuters he had just learned of the recapture of Snihurivka from a friend reached there by phone.

“I can’t find words to describe my feelings,” said the 46-year-old.

‘NO PRESENTS’

Moscow on Wednesday ordered its troops to withdraw from the entire Russian-held pocket on the west bank of the Dnipro River, including the city of Kherson, the only regional capital Russia had captured in nine months of war.

Ukrainian officials have been mostly cautious in public, warning that the Russians may still plan to sow destruction on their way out.

Mykhail Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Thursday Russia wants to turn Kherson into a “city of death,” mining everything from homes to sewers and planning to bomb the city from across the river.

“This is what (the) ‘Russian world’ looks like: came, robbed, celebrated, killed ‘witnesses’, left in ruins and left,” he wrote on Twitter.

Russia denies ill-treating civilians despite bombing residential areas throughout the conflict. It has evacuated thousands of civilians from the Kherson region in recent weeks, in what Ukraine is describing as a forced deportation.

On the front north of Cherson, less artillery could be heard than usual. Dense fog had set in overnight, light snow was falling and the ground was covered with frost. Ukrainian troops at checkpoints were buttoned up against the cold.

Ukraine wants to inflict as much damage as possible on Russian troops attempting to flee across the river, and Kiev’s public caution may in part reflect its policy of remaining silent about its own operations.

Zelensky himself mentioned Kherson only once in his daily televised address. Ukrainian forces are strengthening their positions in the south “step by step,” he said. “The enemy will not give us gifts.”

When asked about Kherson in an interview with Eureka News Now that aired on Thursday, Zelenskyy said he couldn’t give details because “I really want an unpleasant surprise for the enemy and not something they’re prepared for.”

“REAL PROBLEMS”

Russia’s withdrawal order, just over a month after President Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of territory he said would forever be part of Russia, is one of the most humiliating defeats Moscow has suffered to date.

Russian state media and pro-Kremlin war hawks defended it as a necessary move but conceded a heavy blow.

“I know for sure that this decision was not easy for anyone. Not for those who met her, nor for those of us who understood it would be like this but still prayed it wouldn’t happen,” said Margarita Simonyan, head of RT, Russia’s international propaganda channel.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was shown on television on Wednesday giving the withdrawal order in response to advice from his commander-in-chief, who said it was necessary to save the lives of troops who would be better able to attack the opposite bank of the Dnieper defend.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said early signs indicated Russia was going through with its withdrawal, although it could take time to complete. US President Joe Biden said the withdrawal showed there were “some real problems with the Russian military.”

After Russian defeats in northern and eastern Ukraine, the withdrawal leaves Moscow limited gains for a “special military operation” that left it an outcast in the West and killed tens of thousands of its soldiers.

Russian forces still hold on to other gains in the south, including a vital land route linking Russia to the Crimea peninsula captured in 2014, and cities to the east, which they mostly wiped out in the capture.

For Ukraine, which has endured nine months of bombing and occupation that have killed thousands of its civilians, a victory in Kherson would bolster arguments that it can defeat Russia on the battlefield and may silence some Western voices demanding that they would negotiate a deal to cede territory.

“This is a confirmation of Ukraine’s military strategy and the approach of its senior leadership. They are successful and the Russians know it,” tweeted Mick Ryan, a retired Australian general.

“Now is NOT the time to force Ukraine into negotiations. The Russians may be weakened, but they are not giving up on their territorial aspirations. They must be defeated on the battlefield and driven out of Ukraine.”

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