Zelenskyy accuses Russia of war crimes in Ukraine’s Kherson

Mass graves have been found in several places across Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24.

A crowd gathers in the Kherson city centre, some wrapped in Ukrainian flags or flying them, looking happy.
Residents gathered in the Kherson city centre after the Russians withdrew [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russian soldiers of committing war crimes and killing civilians in Kherson, which was retaken by Ukraine last week.

“Investigators have already documented more than 400 Russian war crimes. Bodies of dead civilians and servicemen have been found,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Sunday, without specifying the locations where the bodies had been discovered.

“The Russian army left behind the same savagery it did in other regions of the country it entered,” he said.

It was not immediately possible to verify Zelenskyy’s allegations. Russia denies its troops intentionally target civilians.

Mass graves have been found in several places across Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, including the bodies of civilians showing evidence of torture discovered in the northeastern Kharkiv region and in Bucha, near the capital Kyiv. Ukraine has accused Russian troops of committing the crimes.

A United Nations commission in October said war crimes had been committed in Ukraine and that Russian forces were responsible for the “vast majority” of human rights violations in the early weeks of the war.

Ukrainians in Kherson expressed a deep sense of relief following the withdrawal of Russian forces on Friday after months of occupation.

The region was one of four that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed in September, a move dubbed illegal by Kyiv and denounced by Western countries.

A boy flies a Ukrainian flag at a former Russian checkpoint on the outskirts of Kherson
The Russians retreated on Friday, with residents expressing relief that the soldiers had gone [AFP]

Some residents accused the Russians of laying mines and looting — even stealing animals from a zoo — before they retreated.

“God will punish them. All of them. For everything they did,” said 47-year-old Svitlana Vilna.

No water, power

Ukrainian troops arrived in the southern city of Kherson after Russia abandoned the regional capital, which fell shortly after the February 24 invasion.

The withdrawal marked the third significant Russian retreat of the war and followed a major Ukrainian counteroffensive that had retaken parts of the east and south.

Most homes in the Ukrainian city are still without electricity and water, according to regional officials said, and artillery exchanges continued to echo over the city.

“We are happy now, but all of us are afraid of the bombing from the left bank,” said Yana Smyrnova, a 35-year-old singer who was in the city’s main square, referring to Russian guns on the east side of the Dnieper River.

Many residents — some wrapped in Ukrainian flags — queued to get food and to use Starlink satellite internet to connect with relatives.

“I need to get in touch with my family,” Klavdia Mych, a retired teacher, told the AFP news agency.

“We have been without water for a week,” the 69-year-old added. “And they say everything is mined. It is very scary.”

The governor of the Kherson region, Yaroslav Yanushevych, said the authorities had decided to maintain a curfew from 5pm local time (15:00 GMT) until 8am (06:00 GMT) and ban people from leaving or entering the city as a security measure.

“The enemy mined all critical infrastructure,” Yanushevych told Ukrainian TV. “We are trying to meet within a few days and [then] open the city,” he said.

Zelenskyy also warned Kherson residents about the presence of Russian mines. “I am asking you please not to forget that the situation in Kherson region remains very dangerous,” he said.

People in winter clothes gathered around a satellite link to get mobile phone coverage and speak to their families.
Residents gathered to use the Starlink satellite system for their smartphones. Ukrainian authorities are working to restore water and power to the city, with the first trains expected to run this week [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

Minimising contact

Officials reported some early progress in restoring normality to the city, whose pre-war population was about 290,000 people.

Presidential adviser Kyrylo Tymoshenko said on Telegram that a mobile connection was already working in the city centre, while the head of Ukrainian state railways said train services to Kherson were expected to resume this week.

Residents said the Russians had left gradually over the past two weeks, but their final departure became clear only when the first Ukrainian troops entered the city of Kherson on Thursday.

“It was a gradual thing,” said Alexii Sandakov, 44, a videographer. “First their special police went. Then the ordinary police and their administration. Then you started seeing fewer soldiers in the supermarkets and then their military vehicles driving away.”

Many residents interviewed by the Reuters news agency said they had tried to minimise their contact with the Russians and knew of people who were arrested and abused for showing any expression of Ukrainian patriotism.

Sandakov said Russian troops had looted the homes of Ukrainian soldiers who left the city before the takeover and would inspect the bodies of young men passing through checkpoints for tattoos of Ukrainian nationalist groups.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said it had recaptured 179 settlements and 4,500 square kilometres (1,700 square miles) along the Dnieper River since the beginning of the week.

The recapture of the city 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.

Source: News Agencies