For eight months, the residents of the Ukrainian city of Kherson lived under Russian occupation. But on Friday, Ukrainian forces entered the city and Russian forces retreated to the east.
Residents have no water, no internet connection and little power. But when a CNN crew entered the city on Saturday, the mood was euphoric.
When the films were shot in Kherson’s central square, some in the crowd of citizens sang the national anthem and others shouted “Slava Ukrayini!” – glorify Ukraine, a patriot.
“We are satisfied, we are not slaves, we are Ukrainians,” resident Olga told CNN.
Residents also climbed onto buildings, including a movie theater, on the site to raise Ukrainian flags. Soldiers marching are greeted with cheers and asked to sign on flags.
Later when the Russian troops rolled in at the beginning of the war, this was a city that tried to resist: people were taken, tortured, disappeared, said the residents.
“We are worried [the] The Russian army, we are afraid of soldiers who can come at any time in our house, in our home – just open the door, as they live, and steal, Theft, abuse,” said Olga.
But now, people take to the central square of the newly liberated city, wrapped in Ukrainian flags, singing and chanting “Freedom for Ukraine.”
“Everybody’s out there celebrating on the stage here. People are wearing the Ukrainian flag, they’re hugging the soldiers, they’ve come to see what freedom is,” Robertson said.
Katerina described the release as the “best day” of her life after eight months under Russian occupation. “Our city is free, my street is free,” he told CNN.
Another resident named Andrew said he was very happy to see the Ukrainian soldiers.
“I think a lot of people have been killed here. We don’t know yet,” he said of the time under the occupation.
A Ukrainian Special Forces soldier, who gave his name only as Daniel, told CNN how his unit first reached Kherson. “My boss put a flag on the roof,” he said.
“It’s very exciting for us, in the end. Before the 11th [of November], five days of hard work, really hard work. The Ukrainian soldiers proved once again, as always, that they are stronger than the Russians.
He added that the civilians in Kherson were the “real heroes” for so long under Russian occupation. “I can’t imagine how happy they are right now,” he said.
The CNN team appeared to be the first international journalists to reach Kherson city center since it changed hands 48 hours ago.
On Friday, Russia announced that it had withdrawn from the west bank of the Dnipro River in the southern part of Kherson, leaving the regional capital of the same name and areas adjacent to the Ukrainians.
The withdrawal is a key part of Putin’s military campaign in Ukraine. Kherson is the only Ukrainian regional capital captured by Russian forces since the February offensive. Their departure to the east through the Dnipro will give away the vast lands that Russia has occupied since the first days of the war, and Putin has already declared the territory of Russia five weeks ago.
“It’s a very difficult time for everyone. Every Ukrainian family was waiting for our soldiers, for our army,” a Kherson resident told CNN on Saturday, recalling the Russian occupation.
The woman said it was “surprising” to see Ukrainian troops in Kherson.
“We know your support every day, thank you so much,” the woman added, before hugging Robertson.
Speaking Saturday on the next steps for the Ukrainian army, CNN military Cedric Leighton said: “This is going to be a major operation in the city. What you see is a routine operation to clean up buildings of booby traps and mines.
“One thing the Ukrainians have to do is to move their systems forward so that they can resist the Russian forces that are coming on the east bank of the Dnipro river.
“You will see that the Ukrainians have moved to that river bank, they are taking control of that area, they need to wipe out some remaining Russian soldiers who have not come out from the west bank of the Dnipro river. But those who are there will be given or eliminated from the fight. ”
On Friday evening, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky released a video of a night of celebration in the city, where the crowd was waving flags and chanting “ZSU,” the acronym Ukrainian for the military.
Earlier that day, the Ukrainian military said the southern part of the Russian army was “immediately attacking boats deemed suitable for sailing and trying to escape” across the border. of the river.
It is unclear whether all Russian forces have left Kherson and the wider region. Serhiy Khlan, a member of Ukraine’s Kherson regional council, said the city was “almost under the control of the Ukrainian army” but said some Russian forces remained behind the civilian clothes.
He said many Russian soldiers “have thrown away their military uniforms, and are hiding in civilian clothes.”