What are pro-Kremlin Russians saying about the ‘loss’ of Kherson?

While some hawks accept the decision to withdraw, others are furious about the Russian military’s defeat.

Evacuees from Kherson gather upon their arrival at the railway station in Dzhankoi, Crimea, on October 21, 2022
Evacuees from Kherson gather upon their arrival at the railway station in Dzhankoi, Crimea, on October 21, 2022 [File: AP Photo]

Despite Moscow’s proclamations that Kherson city would remain part of Russia forever, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has ordered a withdrawal across the Dnieper River, effectively surrendering it to the advancing Ukrainians.

In a meeting on Wednesday broadcast live on Russian television, General Sergey Surovikin, the commander of Russian troops in Ukraine, told Shoigu it was impossible to keep the city’s supply lines open.

However, there may be more than logistical difficulties at play.

While Ukrainians fear the withdrawal is a trap, a source who worked in the Russia-backed administration of occupied Kherson claimed that the decision to fall back was made more than a month ago.

“I was informed about this decision on October 3,” the source, who requested anonymity, told Al Jazeera.

“It was a political decision. There were [still] many troops there – I personally saw tanks transported across the Dnieper [River] for an attack on Mykolaiv. But everything was cancelled after closed negotiations. It’s weird. There must have been agreements at a very high level.”


These claims, which Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify, appear to be consistent with reports published in the exiled independent Russian news site Meduza in October, which said that Moscow made statements towards resuming ceasefire negotiations with Ukraine.

But these statements were insincere, Meduza reported, as they were aimed at allowing forces to regroup with freshly-mobilised conscripts for an offensive early next year, in February or March 2023.

To achieve this, sources close to the Kremlin told Meduza that the military was ready to withdraw from at least part of the occupied Kherson territory for the sake of this agreement.

‘Difficult but right choice’

Pro-Moscow observers mourned the loss of the first and only regional capital captured in the Russian invasion.

Alexander Kots, a war correspondent for the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda who is embedded with Russian troops, grabbed Russian flags before Ukrainian soldiers could desecrate them.

“This morning, having seen that Russian flags had disappeared from the administrative buildings of Kherson and having received several strong recommendations to cross to the left bank, we decided to take two more flags with us before the ferry,” Kots wrote on Telegram. “So that those who will mock our state symbol will not get it.”

“I will keep the state symbol until we return to hang in its [rightful] place,” he added.


Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, and Ramzan Kadyrov, ruler of Chechnya, both typically gung-ho supporters of President Vladimir Putin’s campaign in Ukraine, respected the decision to pull out.

“The decision taken by Surovikin was not easy, but he acted like a man who is not afraid of responsibility,” Prigozhin said in comments to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

“He did it in an organised manner, without fear, taking upon himself the entirety of decision-making. I want to emphasise that the operation to withdraw troops is always extremely difficult, turning your back to the enemy while leaving positions.”

Kadyrov, who has often complained the war is not being waged furiously enough, echoed Prigozhin’s comments on his popular Telegram channel.

“Surovikin saved a thousand soldiers who were in actual encirclement,” he wrote.

“After weighing all the pros and cons, General Surovikin made the difficult but right choice between senseless sacrifices for the sake of loud statements and saving the priceless lives of soldiers.”

Kremlin sources have reportedly said state media outlets were ordered to report that advancing Ukrainians were planning to blow up the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant on the Dnieper River, flooding settlements and Russian positions alike, and claim the Ukrainian army would not hesitate to level the city in an upcoming fight.

Nevertheless, it may be hard to convince pro-war voices the “loss” of Kherson city is anything other than a defeat.

“As sad and frustrating as it is, alas, the retreat from Kherson to the left bank of the Dnieper River has become a reality,” popular Telegram channel Rybar told its million-plus readers.

“We don’t know how federal channels will present this. Will they sugarcoat the bitter pill with soothing words on how ‘history will put everything in its place’, on the Great Patriotic War; a phrase on how ‘when the army ends, the enemy ends’ and other mantras? In the eyes of the population, this is a defeat. Yes, a local one. Does that make it any easier? It’s a loss of territories that the Russian Federation recognised as its own.”

“For at least the next two days, we will have to read, listen and watch how betrayal and treason around Kherson will be justified and smoothed over, declaring that nothing could be done,” posted the allegedly Wagner-linked Telegram channel, Grey Zone.

“They will say that the enemy, in spite of the losses they bear, which number in the thousands, was ready to conquer Kherson anyway. Maybe something else will be said that this is because of their help from the West.”

Source: Al Jazeera