Zelensky: Beginning of end of war

The liberation of Kherson marks the “beginning of the end” of the war with Russia, Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, said on a visit to the city.

Ukraine was “moving forward” and ready for peace, he told soldiers.

Losing the southern city is a major setback for Russia – though Moscow insists it remains Russian territory.

Russia declared it the centre of the illegally annexed Kherson region, and it was the only regional capital to be occupied since the invasion.

Pro-Russian billboards on the drive into the city – along with periodic crumps of artillery – act as a reminder that Vladimir Putin’s men have not left completely though.

Kherson was captured in March, weeks after the invasion began. The region was then one of four to be illegally annexed after self-styled referendums in September.

At a ceremony in Moscow, Putin said the annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson was “non-negotiable”. Russia still occupies the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, seized by Russian-backed separatists in 2014.

In recent weeks, Ukraine has made gains in the south of the country, advancing towards Kherson and putting Russian forces under increasing pressure. Last week, Russian forces withdrew and Ukrainian troops entered the city on Friday.

Locals were seen celebrating, some reuniting with loved ones they had not seen for months. The mood in the city was one of jubilation and relief, but also trepidation, the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen reports.

Echoing that caution was North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, who warned it would be a “mistake” to “underestimate Russia”.

“The coming months will be difficult,” he told Dutch government officials. “Putin’s aim is to leave Ukraine cold and dark this winter. So we must stay the course.”

During his visit on Monday, Mr Zelensky sang the Ukrainian national anthem as the country’s flag was hoisted above the main administrative building.

He told troops that Ukraine was “ready for peace, peace for all our country”, Reuters news agency reports.

He thanked NATO and other allies for their support, adding that High mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) from the United States had made a big difference. -BBC

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