Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday said he hoped that the recapture of Kherson was the “beginning of the end of the war”, as he lauded soldiers and took selfies with them in the recently liberated southern city.
Mr Zelenskyy made the unexpected appearance in the city only hours after warning in his nightly video address of booby traps and mines left behind by the Russians before their retreat.
In Kherson, he distributed medals to Ukrainian troops in a central square and posed for selfies with them.
Video footage showed him waving to residents, some of whom shouted from an apartment window: “Glory to Ukraine!” The reply “Glory to the heroes!” came back from Mr Zelenskyy’s group, made up of soldiers and others.
“Is it the beginning of the end of the war? Of course, you see our strong army, we are step by step coming to our country, to all the temporarily occupied territories,” Mr Zelenskyy told reporters after addressing troops in the city's main square.
“We are ready for peace — but our peace … For all our country, all our territory,” he said. However, minutes before he arrived, nearby shelling could be heard, and after he finished speaking several more blasts of artillery echoed over the city.
“Investigators have already documented more than 400 Russian war crimes,” Mr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.
“Bodies of dead civilians and servicemen have been found.
“The Russian Army left behind the same savagery it did in other regions of the country it entered.”
Russia has denied that its troops intentionally aimed for civilians.
Ukraine accused Russian troops of committing these crimes.
Ukrainian Troops in Kherson — in pictures
Ukrainian troops arrived in the centre of the southern Kherson region last Friday after Russia abandoned the only regional capital it had captured since invading in February.
The withdrawal was the third major Russian retreat of the war and the first to involve such a large occupied city, after a major Ukrainian counter-offensive that has retaken parts of the east and south.
Ukrainian soldier celebrates with Kherson residents after Russian withdrawal — video
Utility companies in the Kherson region were trying to restore critical infrastructure damaged and mined by fleeing Russian troops.
Most homes in the city were without electricity and water, regional officials said.
On Sunday, artillery fire being exchanged over the city failed to discourage crowds of jubilant, flag-waving residents from gathering on Kherson's main square, bundled up against the wintry cold.
The crowds tried to catch mobile phone signals from Starlink ground stations on Ukrainian military vehicles.
Tears of joy as Ukrainian armed forces arrive — video
“We are happy now, but all of us are afraid of the bombing from the left bank,” said Yana Smyrnova, 35, a singer.
She was referring to Russian guns on the east side of the Dnipro river that flanks part of the city.
Ms Smyrnova said she and her friends had to get water from the river for bathing and flushing their toilets, and only a few residents were lucky enough to have generators that create power to receive water from wells.
The governor of Kherson region, Yaroslav Yanushevych, said authorities had decided to maintain a curfew from 5pm to 8am and ban people from leaving or entering the city as a security measure.
“The enemy mined all critical infrastructure,” he told Ukrainian TV.
“We are trying to meet within a few days and open the city.”
Ukraine war latest — in pictures
Mr Zelenskyy also warned Kherson residents about the presence of Russian landmines.
“I am asking you please not to forget that the situation in Kherson region remains very dangerous,” he said.
Yuriy Sobolevskiy, first deputy chairman of Kherson regional council, told Ukrainian TV that even as the authorities were working to restore critical services, the humanitarian situation remained “very difficult”.