The Russian military is pulling out from the strategic city of Kherson in southern Ukraine, according to multiple media reports Wednesday, signaling a major potential loss for Russia.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the decision to pull troops from Kherson in televised remarks Wednesday after the highest commander for Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine said the “difficult” decision would “preserve lives of servicemen and combat readiness of forces,” according to The New York Times.
Russian forces will retreat to the opposite bank of the Dnipro River, according to Reuters, abandoning the only regional capital under full Russian control since the beginning of the war.
“We will save the lives of our soldiers and fighting capacity of our units. Keeping them on the right (western) bank is futile. Some of them can be used on other fronts,” Gen. Sergei Surovikin said, according to Reuters.
Surovikin said it had become impossible to supply the Russian troops occupying the city.
Russia conducted a mass evacuation of tens of thousands of residents from the city over past weeks in preparation for an anticipated Ukrainian onslaught, the NYT reported. Ukrainian forces moved in on Kherson in October.
Russian officials denied expecting an imminent surrender of the city of Kherson, although the city’s Russian-appointed governor Vladimir Saldo still advised residents to leave, Reuters reported on Oct. 19.
Ukraine had announced a counteroffensive aimed at recapturing Kherson in August but for months saw sluggish progress against Russian strongholds in the south. However, a surprise counteroffensive into the north, conducted in parallel with the Kherson campaign, saw early gains, Politico reported.
The Ukrainian military previously suspected Russia may attempt a feigned retreat to draw Ukrainian forces into more difficult urban offensive warfare, thrusting Ukrainian forces into the same fighting conditions Russia has struggled to overcome roughly over nine months of war, according to the NYT.
“We have signs they are pulling out,” Col. Roman Kostenko, chairman of the defense and intelligence committee in Ukraine’s Parliament, told the NYT. “They blew up bridges that would have allowed our forces to advance. We see them leaving population centers, but in some they leave soldiers behind to cover their movements.”
Russia proclaimed unilateral control of the Kherson region, which includes the flagship city of the same name, in September despite its military lacking full military control of the territory.