Kherson residents jubilant as Ukrainian soldiers enter city

Special troops welcomed with hugs, flowers and dancing after occupying Russian forces retreat

A man holds a Ukranian flag as people gather in Maidan Square to celebrate the liberation of Kherson, in Kyiv on November 11, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  - Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said on November 11 that Kherson was "ours" after Russia announced the completion of its withdrawal from the regional capital, the only one Moscow captured in nearly nine months of fighting.  (Photo by Genya SAVILOV  /  AFP)
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Residents of Kherson gave an emotional welcome to Ukrainian troops entering the city on Friday after Russia withdrew its forces.

After living eight months under Russian occupation, people filled the streets of the city on Friday and showered returning special forces with hugs, cheers and gifts as they celebrated into the night. Many lined the roads with Ukrainian flags, shouting "Kherson is Ukraine" and passing bouquets of flowers to arriving soldiers.

Regular military units are on the outskirts of the city, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, hailing it as a "historic day" for the war-scarred country in its fight against Moscow.

Residents sang the Ukrainian national anthem and danced around a bonfire in a video shared by parliament.

Crowds partied outside the city hall in darkness, still without electricity after Russia completely cut the city's power supply.

Kherson's liberation also sparked celebrations in the capital, Kyiv, where people gathered in the city's Maidan square to celebrate.

Kherson was the only regional capital to be captured by Moscow when it invaded Ukraine in February. In September, Russia annexed the region along with three others following referendums widely considered illegitimate.

Russia said its forces had left Kherson by early Friday morning, but that its retreat did not change the "status" of the region. The US has hailed Kherson's liberation as an "extraordinary victory" for Ukraine, while the UK said it brings "significant reputational damage" for Russia.

“We are grateful to the Ukrainian armed forces. Our boys are amazing. Glory to God, glory to Ukrainian armed forces, glory to Ukraine," one Kherson resident told the Associated Press.

In footage shared online, vehicles carrying returning troops are swarmed by elated locals.

"I'm crying tears of joy and watching videos of liberation non-stop," Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko said on Twitter.

An army commander on the outskirts of Kherson city told AFP they were being greeted by children and given embroidered towels by villagers.

Demining has already begun in the province.

The reality of Russia's occupation will also become more evident as Ukrainian authorities gain access to the region.

The prosecutor general has already sent a team of investigators to Kherson's Beryslav district after the bodies of three civilians with fractured skulls were found in a cellar.

In late October, the government said more than 1,000 civilian bodies had been exhumed in recently liberated areas of Ukraine.

Updated: November 13, 2022, 5:34 AM