Residents of the newly liberated city of Kherson are almost without water and face shortages of bread and medicines, officials warned, as efforts continued Sunday to remove mines and restore critical infrastructure following the withdrawal of Russian forces.
Crowds celebrated the liberation of the city Saturday after Ukrainian forces swept into the city and Russian troops retreated to the east.
But life remains far from normal, with authorities warning residents to be wary of explosives littering the city, and Russian forces still nearby – just across the strategically important Dnipro River.
This is not the end of the struggle against the Russian occupation in the country, reports CNN’s Nic Robertson, who witnessed emotional scenes Saturday in Kherson’s central square as residents hailed their liberation.
“Kherson is now a front line city,” he said. “Last night and in the early hours of this morning you could hear outgoing fire towards the Russian forces.”
On Saturday, Ukraine’s National Police warned “the main threat at the moment is mass mining,” with a police representative injured while demining one of the city’s administrative buildings.
Almost 2,000 “explosive items,” such as mines, trip wires, and unexploded ammunition, have already been removed from the Kherson region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned during his nightly address Saturday. He urged Kherson residents “to be careful and not try to independently check any buildings and objects left by the occupiers.”
“There are 10 groups of bomb disposal experts working in Kherson, the police are working, and there are various units of the defense forces,” Zelensky said.
Meanwhile, the makings of a dire humanitarian situation are unfolding in the city, where power is out and access to food and water is limited.
“There is practically no water supply in the town. There is a shortage of medicines, there is a shortage of bread, which is not produced because of the lack of electricity. There are also problems with food supplies,” Roman Golovnya, adviser to the mayor of Kherson, said in a TV broadcast Saturday.
Damage to major dam
Infrastructure has taken an unwelcome hit: Zelensky said that “before fleeing from Kherson, the occupiers destroyed all critical infrastructure – communication, water supply, heat, electricity.”
Weather conditions are getting tougher, with sub-zero temperatures at night, CNN’s team in Kherson city reports, and no heating in the city. Ukrainian authorities have said that those who find it too hard to live in Kherson can move to other parts of the country, since they do now have freedom of movement.
Meanwhile, damage has been inflicted on a critical dam that spans the Dnipro River at Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region.
Satellite images from Maxar Technologies obtained by CNN on Friday showed water flowing out of three sluice gates at the dam, where a major hydroelectric project is situated.
On Sunday, Vladimir Leontie, a Russian-installed official in Nova Kakhovka, alleged on Russian state TV that the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant had received “enormous” damage as a result of shelling by the Ukrainian armed forces, with repairs to take at least a year.
Pro-Russian officials in the annexed Kherson region claim that the evacuation of civilians and the retreat of Russian troops from the west bank to the east bank of Dnipro River is due to the threat of flooding that could occur if the Ukrainian military hits the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam.
Ukraine has not said it was the party which shelled the plant.
Methodical operation to clear city
Speaking Saturday on the next steps for the Ukrainian military in Kherson, CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton said: “This is going to be a major urban operation. What you are going to see is a methodical operation to clear buildings of potential booby traps and mines.
“Another thing that the Ukrainians will have to do is they’re going to have to move their systems forward so that they can counter any possible Russian artillery that is going to be on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.
“You can see that the Ukrainians have moved to that river bank, they are now controlling that area, they will have to mop up some remaining Russian forces that did not make it out of the west bank of the Dnipro River. But those that are there will probably either surrender or in essence be eliminated from the fight.”
Russian troops are focusing their efforts in the Kherson region on equipping their defensive lines on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, an operational update from the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) General Staff said Sunday night.
Russia announced Friday that it had withdrawn from the west bank of the Dnipro River in the strategic southern region of Kherson, leaving the regional capital of the same name and surrounding areas to the Ukrainians.
The retreat represents a major blow for Putin’s war effort in Ukraine. Kherson was the only Ukrainian regional capital that Russian forces had captured since February’s invasion.
Their withdrawal east across the Dnipro cedes large swathes of land that Russia has occupied since the early days of the war, and that Putin had formally declared as Russian territory just five weeks ago.
The Ukrainian military said Sunday the Russians were still conducting assaults in the Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Novopavlikvka areas, all in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region. Other areas like Kupyansk and Lyman are also getting hit by artillery, the AFU added.
CNN’s Katharina Krebs and Dennis Lapin contributed reporting.