Russian atrocities in the Kherson region are the same as in other regions – Zelensky
President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces that recaptured the city of Kherson had found evidence of new war crimes committed by the Russian occupiers.
“The Russian military left behind the same atrocities as in other parts of our country,” he said in an overnight address.
“Investigators have already documented more than 400 war crimes,” the Ukrainian leader said, without clearly specifying the area in which they were found.
“The bodies of those killed are found, civilians and soldiers,” he said. “We will find and bring to justice every murderer.”
Ukrainians in the liberated city expressed a deep sense of relief at the end of months of occupation following the withdrawal of Russian forces on Friday.
But, like Zelensky, they said the Russians had left a trail of destruction, laying mines and going on a looting spree – even stealing animals from a zoo – before their withdrawal.
“God will punish them. All of them. For everything they have done,” 47-year-old Svitlana Vilna said.
“Always very dangerous”
Ruined buildings and destroyed military vehicles could be seen at the entrance to the strategic Black Sea port city, where battles were raging just days ago.
A smell of burnt wood wafted through the air.
“I ask you not to forget that the situation in the Kherson region is still very dangerous,” Zelensky said.
He said a Ukrainian sapper was killed while clearing a mine, while four others were injured.
Zelensky said workers were moving to quickly restore critical infrastructure destroyed by the Russians, including water, electricity, internet and television connections, as well as transport and postal services.
Kherson was one of four regions in Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed in September.
On Sunday, locals lined up for food and many adults and children walked around wrapped in Ukrainian flags.
Some gathered in the town’s main square, mostly to use Starlink satellite internet and connect with relatives.
“I need to get in touch with my family,” said Klavdia Mych, a retired teacher.
“We have been without water for a week,” the 69-year-old added. “And they say it’s all mined. It’s very scary.”
Viktoria Dybovska, a 30-year-old saleswoman, said the Russians “took everything with them”.
“They emptied the stores,” she added.
Oleksandr Todorchuk, founder of the organization UAnimals, said Russian troops took most of the animals from the local zoo to Crimea.
“From llamas and wolves to donkeys and squirrels,” he posted on Facebook.
Russia strengthens its defenses
The city of Kherson was the first major urban center to fall after Russia invaded in February.
On Saturday, in the village of Pravdyne outside Kherson, returning residents hugged their neighbors, some unable to hold back their tears.
“Victory, finally!” said Svitlana Galak, who had lost her eldest daughter during the war.
“Thank God we have been released and everything will now fall into place,” the 43-year-old told AFP.
Several deactivated mines and anti-tank grenades, as well as a number of damaged buildings, could be seen in the settlement.
As clearance continues, a curfew has been put in place and movement in and out of town has been restricted, local authorities said.
Zelensky said Sunday that Kyiv was establishing control over more than 200 settlements in the region.
About 200 officers erected roadblocks and recorded “the crimes of the Russian occupiers”, said Ukrainian police chief Igor Klymenko.
But Russian troops continued to fortify defenses on the left bank of the Dnipro River from where they had withdrawn, the Ukrainian army’s southern operational command said on Monday.
“It continues to inflict fire damage on our troops and unoccupied settlements along the right bank of the Dnipro” with heavy artillery and mortars, he added.
The complete reconquest of Kherson opens a gateway for Ukraine to the entire Kherson region, with access to both the Black Sea in the west and the Sea of Azov in the east.
“Why all this? »
Shunned by the West for his offensive in Ukraine, Putin, 70, will not travel to Indonesia for the G20 leaders’ summit.
On Monday, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen pressured Russia, saying the best way to end global economic turmoil was to end the war in Ukraine.
“Ending Russia’s war is a moral imperative and the best thing we can do for the global economy,” Yellen told reporters in Bali, which hosts the G20 summit.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed the “remarkable courage” of Ukraine’s military and people and pledged US support “will continue as long as it takes” to defeat Russia.
In London, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Moscow’s “strategic failure” in Kherson could make Russians question the war.
“Ordinary people in Russia must surely ask themselves: ‘Why was all this done?'”