Ukraine war: Russia says troops have begun leaving Kherson as Kyiv stays sceptical

Access to the comments Comments
By Euronews  with AP
A self-propelled artillery vehicle fires near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022.
A self-propelled artillery vehicle fires near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo

Moscow says it has started pulling its troops out of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson.

Russia's defence ministry said on Thursday that the "manoeuvre of units of the Russian group" had begun to the other side of the Dnipro River.

It comes after Ukrainian officials cautioned that Russia's announcement of a withdrawal from Kherson could be part of a misinformation campaign.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said they had seen no signs that Russia was completely leaving the city. 

"Which means that these statements may be disinformation."

"A part of the Russian group is preserved in the city, and additional reserves are charged to the region. Ukraine is liberating territories based on intelligence data, not staged TV statements," he said. 

Russia's military claimed Wednesday that it will withdraw from the only Ukrainian regional capital it captured. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said he had ordered Russian troops to withdraw from the west bank of the Dnipro River in the face of Ukrainian attacks near the southern city.

The announcement marks one of Russia's most significant retreats and a potential turning point in the war, now nearing the end of its ninth month. 

In a nightly video address, Zelenskyy didn't comment directly about Russia's withdrawal announcement, saying only that: “Our emotions must be restrained -- always during war. I will definitely not feed the enemy all the details of our operations [...] when we have our result, everyone will see it.” 

In recent months, Kyiv's forces have zeroed in on Kherson, a city with a pre-war population of 280,000 people. 

They've cut off supply lines in recent weeks as part of a larger counteroffensive in eastern and southern Ukraine that has pushed Russian troops out of wide swaths of territory.

In addition to the largely successful counteroffensive, Ukrainian resistance fighters behind the front line have worked inside Kherson, with sabotage and assassinations of Moscow-appointed officials.

Recapturing Kherson could allow Ukraine to win back lost territory in the Zaporizhzhia region and other southern areas, including Crimea, which Russia illegally seized in 2014. 

A Russian retreat is almost certain to raise domestic pressure on the Kremlin to escalate the conflict.

Yaroslav Yanushevych, Kherson’s Ukrainian-appointed governor, called on residents “not to give in to euphoria” just yet. Another Ukrainian-appointed Kherson regional official, Serhii Khlan, told reporters that Russian forces had blown up five bridges to slow Kyiv’s forces.

Military analyst Oleg Zhdanov said that Russia’s announced retreat “could very well be an ambush and a Russian trap to force the Ukrainians to go on the offensive, force them to penetrate the Russian defenses, and in response to strike with a powerful blow from the flanks.”