Ukraine live briefing: Russia announces retreat from city of Kherson

A destroyed armored vehicle in the liberated village of Shevchenkivka, in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, on Oct. 27. (Heidi Levine for The Washington Post)

Russia’s defense minister said Wednesday that Russian troops were retreating east of the Dnieper River in what appeared to be a full withdrawal from the city of Kherson, the one regional capital Russia had captured since its February invasion. The move is a major setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had declared the annexation of the Kherson region.

The announcement came at the end of another day of fresh Ukrainian advances that put Kyiv’s troops within striking distance of Kherson city.

Ukrainian officials expressed skepticism about a full withdrawal. “Actions speak louder than words,” presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter, adding that he expected some Russian forces to linger and that Ukraine would declare the city liberated based on its own intelligence, not televised Russian statements.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said Wednesday that the Pentagon had observed “initial indicators” that Russia is withdrawing.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Retreat from Kherson

  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the Kherson retreat in a televised exchange with Col. Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russian forces in Ukraine. Surovikin said the move would “save the lives of our military and combat capability.” Control of the Kherson region, much of which Russia still occupies, connects Russian-held Ukrainian territory to the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula.
  • The Pentagon has observed “initial indicators” that Russia was following through after announcing a withdrawal from Kherson, said Milley at a gathering of the Economic Club of New York, Wednesday. He added that there were thousands of Russian forces along the river and that it would take days or even weeks to pull those forces south of the river.
  • The Russians waiting until after the U.S. election to make the judgement about the evacuation of Kherson shows that “the Russian military has some real problems,” President Biden said at a White House press conference, Wednesday. While answering a question about possible peace negotiations, Biden said it remains to be seen whether Ukraine is prepared to compromise with Russia.
  • “We have seen the announcement, but we will of course wait and see what actually happens on the ground,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday, speaking to reporters outside 10 Downing Street in London after a conversation with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
  • Shortly before announcing the retreat, Russian authorities confirmed the death of the Russia-appointed deputy governor of the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, who they said died in a car crash.
  • Some Russian hardliners cheered the decision to withdraw from Kherson. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on Telegram that Surovikin, the commander, made a “difficult but right choice between senseless sacrifices for the sake of loud statements and saving the priceless lives of soldiers.” Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, also told Russian outlet RIA Novosti that Surovikin “acted like a man who is not afraid of responsibility" by withdrawing with minimal losses.

Vasylivka

Davydiv

Brid

Nuclear power plant

at Enerhodar

Dudchany

ZAPORIZHZHIA

Snihurivka

KHERSON

Melitopol

Hydroelectric dam

Nova

Kakhovka

Kherson

Russian-controlled

area

Northern

Crimean

Canal

Armiansk

Sea of

Azov

Black

Sea

Dzhankoi

CRIMEA

Annexed by Russia in 2014

Kyiv

Simferopol

Russian-controlled

area

25 MILES

Sevastopol

Detail

Sources: Nov. 8 control data via Institute for the Study of War, AEI’s Critical Threats Project, Post reporting

THE WASHINGTON POST

Russian defense minister orders

troops to withdraw from this area

Russian-held

areas

Vasylivka

25 MILES

Dudchany

Melitopol

KHERSON

Hydroelectric dam

Nova

Kakhovka

Kherson

Northern

Crimean

Canal

Armiansk

Dzhankoi

CRIMEA

Black

Sea

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

Simferopol

Kyiv

Russian-controlled

area

Sevastopol

Detail

Control areas as of Nov.8

Sources: Institute for the Study of War, AEI’s Critical Threats Project

Russian defense minister orders

troops to withdraw from this area

Russian-

held areas

Vasylivka

25 MILES

Dudchany

Melitopol

KHERSON

Hydroelectric dam

Nova Kakhovka

Kherson

N. Crimean

Canal

Armiansk

Dzhankoi

Black

Sea

CRIMEA

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

Simferopol

Kyiv

Sevastopol

Russian-controlled

area

Source: Nov. 8

control data via Institute

for the Study of War

Detail

2. Other key developments

  • WNBA star Brittney Griner is being transferred to a Russian penal colony, her lawyers said Wednesday, after a Russian court rejected an appeal of her 9½-year prison sentence. She has been detained in Russia on drug charges since February. Her detention has exacerbated U.S.-Russia tensions, already at a peak over the war in Ukraine.
  • Biden hopes that Putin will be willing to negotiate a prisoner exchange regarding Brittney Griner, at a White House press conference, Wednesday. “My intention is to get her [Griner] home,” he said. He added that Russia has responded to them, but didn’t add any details.
  • Griner’s lawyers say they have no information on her exact whereabouts or final destination since she left a detention center outside Moscow on Friday. Her attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said that she was “now on her way to a penal colony” and that the U.S. Embassy should be notified upon her arrival. Here’s what to know about Russian penal colonies, which are known for brutal conditions.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was committed to bringing Griner home, along with ex-security consultant Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia. The White House also said the United States was seeking to resolve “the unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American citizens” there. Moscow has blamed Washington for the lack of progress on a possible prisoner swap, and U.S. officials have declined to say whether the two could be exchanged for imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
  • About 4 million people in Ukraine, including in the capital, Kyiv, were without electricity as of Tuesday evening because of “stabilization schedules” after Russian attacks on energy facilities, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said. He accused Russia of trying to turn “winter into a weapon” against his country and “the whole of Europe.” But while the looming winter will be difficult, Ukraine is prepared, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said.

3. Battleground updates

  • “Brutal” battles raged across the front lines Wednesday, especially in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, Zelensky said. Russian forces, he said, have suffered “large-scale losses” in the region but remain in control of swaths of territory.
  • Britain is sending a package of winter gear to Ukraine’s military as temperatures drop, the government announced. The shipment, scheduled to arrive by mid-December, includes 12,000 sleeping kits, 150 heated tents and 25,000 clothing sets for extremely cold weather.
  • The United States delivered two surface-to-air missile systems that willcontribute to Ukraine’s air defense capabilities,” Pentagon press secretary Patrick Ryder said Tuesday. The systems can help protect against attacks, including “those conducted by unmanned aerial vehicles or cruise missiles,” he said.

4. Global impact

  • U.S. and Russian officials will resume meeting “in the near future” under a crucial nuclear arms control treaty, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday. The meetings are intended to facilitate inspections of nuclear sites in each country. Moscow had said it was suspending its cooperation, citing Western sanctions and travel restrictions imposed in response to the war.
  • The State Department approved a possible sale of $495 million in weapons and other equipment, including HIMARS rocket launchers, to Lithuania. The sale will support U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives by improving the military capability “of a NATO Ally that is an important force for ensuring political stability and economic progress within Eastern Europe,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement Wednesday. Lithuania requested the rocket systems to modernize its military, strengthen its homeland defense and deter regional threats, the statement said.
  • Zelensky expressed hope for extending an agreement on Ukrainian grain exports in a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday. The U.N.-brokered grain deal, also mediated by Turkey, helped lift a Russian blockade on grain exports from Black Sea ports and ease the global food crisis. The agreement is set to expire this month.

5. From our correspondents

Salty, yellow water disgusts residents and breaks pipes in war-torn Mykolaiv: After a strike destroyed pipes leading into the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, officials pumped water in from a brackish local river called the Southern Buh.

Months later, the water is corroding steel pipes and destroying residential boilers ahead of the winter, Michael E. Miller and Anastacia Galouchka report. “We understood this water was of a really bad quality, but we had no choice,” said Boris Dudenko, head of the city’s water company. “It was pipelines versus people.”

Missy Khamvongsa, Mary Ilyushina, Jocelyn Kiley, Michael E. Miller, Liz Sly, and David L. Stern contributed to this report.

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