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Friday, June 14, 2024

Ukrainian forces advance as Russia says it completed retreat from key southern city

Ukraine’s armed forces swept through southern villages and towns on a march to retake the key city of Kherson Friday as Russia said its military had completed a humiliating retreat from the area.

Moscow’s defense ministry said in a statement reported by state news agencies early Friday that its troops and equipment had been withdrawn from the western bank of the Dnieper River by 5 a.m. local time (9 p.m. ET) — finalizing a pullout that marks one of the biggest setbacks of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.

It follows a grinding Ukrainian counteroffensive and a race by Russia to relocate more than 100,000 residents in the area.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the episode was embarrassing for Putin, who only weeks ago had proclaimed the region’s annexation. “Kyiv does not want negotiations. The special military operation continues,” Peskov said in his daily press briefing.

Ukraine’s military said that another 12 settlements had been liberated throughout the strategically important southern areas surrounding Kherson since the Russian retreat was announced Wednesday.

But Kyiv officials remained wary, warning that Russian forces could inflict severe military and civilian damage through artillery strikes and mines left behind as they pulled out.

A key bridge over the Dnieper River was left in ruins in the wake of the Russian exit, according to images and video that emerged Friday and were verified by NBC News.

The destroyed Antonovsky bridge. Twitter

The Antonivskiy Bridge is the only road crossing from the city of Kherson to the eastern bank of the river, where Russian forces have now established their new defensive lines.

At least six people were killed and three injured in a Russian missile attack on an apartment block in the city of Mykolaiv, about 55 miles west of Kherson city, local officials said. NBC News has not verified the claims.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the residential attack was a “cynical response” to Ukraine’s success on the battlefield.

“Russia does not give up its despicable tactics. And we will not give up our struggle. The occupiers will be held to account for every crime against Ukraine and Ukrainians,” he wrote on his Telegram channel.

On Thursday the Telegram channel of a Ukrainian battalion showed its soldiers declaring they had seized control of the small town of Snihurivka in the Mykolaiv region, about 35 miles north of the prized port city of Kherson.

“Today, November 10, 2022, the settlement of Snihurivka was liberated by the forces of 131 separate reconnaissance battalion. Glory to Ukraine!” says an unnamed solider, to cries of thanks and “Glory to heroes!” from locals.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, estimated that Ukrainian forces progressed 4.3 miles in some areas of Kherson Oblast (meaning county or region) on Thursday alone.

Retaking Kherson could be a strategically and psychologically crucial victory for Ukraine.

It was the only regional capital city seized and controlled by Russia since its full-scale invasion Feb. 24 and its capture helped ensure access to the coast, allowing the Kremlin to create a land corridor across Ukraine’s south.

It also acts as a vital gateway to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia has occupied since 2014.

“Ukraine holds the initiative and is in the process of securing a major victory in Kherson,” its analysts said in a briefing note Thursday. “The major Ukrainian victory underway in Kherson Oblast will not be Ukraine’s last.”

The note pointed out that the wet, muddy weather that so badly affected Russian supply lines at the start of the war in February had returned, adding that Ukraine’s harsh frozen winter could again hamper the Kremlin’s goals.

Despite Ukrainian gains the war is far from over. Russia is firing a staggering 20,000 artillery rounds per day, according to a senior U.S. defense official, while Ukraine is firing from 4,000 to 7,000 rounds daily.

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