This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has ordered Russian troops to withdraw from the west bank of the Dnieper River in the partially occupied Kherson region of Ukraine, another retreat amid a number of setbacks for Moscow on battlefields in Ukraine’s east and southeast.
“Begin to pull out troops,” Shoigu said at a televised meeting with the commander of Russian troops in Ukraine, Army General Sergei Surovikin, on November 9, adding that the withdrawal must be implemented in “the nearest future.”
“The lives of the Russian military personnel are always a priority for us. We must also take into account threats imposed on the civilian population and make sure that all civilians who chose to leave can do so,” Shoigu said. “We also need to start withdrawing the troops and undertake all necessary measures to secure the move of military personnel, arms, and equipment to the other side of the Dnieper.”
Kherson was the first city fully captured by Russia during what Moscow calls a “special military operation” and the only regional capital controlled by the Russians since the offensive began on February 24.
Ukraine’s forces for weeks have been capturing villages as they advance toward the city, and Kremlin-installed leaders in Kherson have been evacuating civilians.
Earlier on November 9, the Moscow-installed deputy head of the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, died in a car crash.
Shoigu’s order came after Surovikin said it was impossible to deliver supplies to the city of Kherson and other areas on the western bank of the Dnieper River.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces were strengthening their positions “step by step” in the south.
“There is a lot of joy in the information space today, and it is clear why, but…the enemy will make no gifts to us,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelenskiy, said earlier on Twitter that the Ukrainian side sees “no signs that Russia is leaving Kherson without a fight.”
Part of the Russian group remains in Kherson city, he said, adding that additional reserves are being sent to the region. Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, are “liberating territories based on intelligence data, not staged TV statements,” he said.
Zelenskiy has suggested that the Russians could fake a retreat in order to lure the Ukrainian Army into an entrenched battle in Kherson city.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden said Moscow’s order to withdraw from Kherson was “evidence of the fact that they have some real problems with the Russian military.”
Moscow and Russian-installed officials in Kherson have said for weeks that they are evacuating residents of Kherson — both the city and the region — to “other parts of the Russian Federation” for their safety. Ukraine has said the Russian move amounted to their forced deportation.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the withdrawal announced by Shoigu is “part of an overall pattern or picture we have seen over the last month that Russia has absolutely lost the momentum.”
But Stoltenberg also cautioned against underestimating Russia.
“They still have capabilities,” he said in an interview with Sky News during a visit to London. “We have seen the drones. We have seen the missile attacks. It shows that Russia can still inflict a lot of damage.”
Kherson is considered by many military analysts as the most important of the four partially occupied Ukrainian regions that Russia announced as annexed in September.
It controls both the only land route to Ukraine’s Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula and the mouth of the Dnieper River that bisects Ukraine.
Earlier on November 9, Russia launched multiple suicide drones on Ukraine’s southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region, wounding people and damaging civilian facilities, the head of the regional military administration said, as fierce battles were under way in the eastern Donetsk region and in the south.
“The occupiers attacked the area massively with kamikaze drones,” said Governor Valentyn Reznichenko. Ukrainian air defense destroyed some of the drones, but others hit targets. The Russian forces also used drones in an attack on the city of Dnipro, targeting a logistics enterprise. Reznichenko said four employees were wounded, and three of them are in serious condition in hospital.
Russian forces also bombarded the Nikopol district in the region with Grad missiles and heavy artillery. Reznichenko said the shelling damaged private houses, a factory, and a power line, but people were not injured.
Zelenskiy vowed Ukraine will not “surrender a single centimeter of our land” in Donetsk, where heavy fighting has been under way, and he thanked Ukrainian troops who are holding positions in the Donbas region.
The epicenter of the battle for the industrial region of Donetsk is around the towns of Bakhmut, Soledar, and Avdiyivka.
“The activity of the occupiers remains at an extremely high level — dozens of attacks every day,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address late on November 8.
“They are suffering extraordinarily high losses. But the order remains the same — to advance on the administrative boundary of the Donetsk region. We will not yield a single centimeter of our land,” he said.
Donetsk is one of four Ukrainian regions Russia said it annexed in September following referendums deemed as sham by Kyiv and its Western allies.
Fighting had been going on there between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatist forces since 2014, the same year Russia illegally annexed Crimea.