Ukrainian civilians in Kherson raised the country’s flag in celebration Friday as Russian troops retreated from the city for the first time since Russia launched its invasion eight months ago, according to multiple media reports.
Unconfirmed images of the celebration quickly circulated on social media, showing civilians flooding into the city’s central square and raising the flag on top of the Kherson city administration building and the police headquarters. The images have been geolocated by CNN, the outlet reported.
Russian and Ukrainian defense officials have confirmed the withdrawal, with Russian officials stating their troops had been relocated to the east bank of the Dnipro River along with all weapons and equipment. The lone bridge across the river has been destroyed, according to a Telegram post.
“Kherson is returning under Ukrainian control and the Ukrainian military is entering the city,” Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency wrote in a Facebook post.
Kherson was the first and only major city captured by Russia when the country’s forces invaded in February. It was also part of the area Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed in September.
Earlier this week, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russia’s forces in Ukraine, proposed that Russian forces withdraw from the city during a report to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on national television. Shoigu approved the proposal after Surovikin said his troops were isolated to a limited area on the right bank of the Dnipro River. However, Ukrainian officials and Western allies were skeptical of the withdrawal, saying it could be a ploy to lure Ukrainian troops into the city.
The withdrawal comes two days after Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said around 40,000 Ukrainian civilians and “well over” 100,000 soldiers have been killed or wounded. Milley’s count is the highest estimate officials from the United States have reported about the war.