Ukrainian forces secured control of areas retaken from Russia in a major victory for Kyiv as more troops headed towards Kherson City on Saturday, but damage to a major dam north-east of the city highlighted the dangers posed by Moscow’s retreat.
Images from US satellite company Maxar Imagery, taken on Friday morning local time, showed considerable damage to the Nova Kakhovka dam, “with sections of the dam and sluice gates destroyed”, the company said on Twitter. The road over the dam had been a last remaining crossing for Russian forces.
It was unclear on Saturday whether the dam’s structural integrity was threatened. Neither side took responsibility for the damage. Ukrainian officials and military analysts have worried for weeks about what retreating Russian troops might do to the critical infrastructure, with possibly catastrophic results.
Ukrainian officials had warned Russia against blowing up the dam completely over fears that doing so could cause massive flooding and destruction as well as threaten the water supply to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Russia has also accused Ukraine of planning to blow up the dam.
Russia said on Friday its forces had completed its retreat from the city, the only provincial capital it had captured in the war.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Saturday called Russia’s retreat “remarkable”.
“It does look as though the Ukrainians have just won an extraordinary victory where the one regional capital that Russia had seized in this war is now back under a Ukrainian flag,” he told reporters travelling with US president Joe Biden.
He said Russia’s retreat had “broader strategic implications,” because Russia’s diminished position reduces the threat to key cities like Odesa.
“Being able to push the Russians across the river means that the longer-term threat to places like Odesa and the Black Sea coastline are reduced from where they were before,” he said.
Reports of damage to the dam came as the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said it was conducting “stabilisation measures” near Kherson on Saturday, using a military term to describe efforts to restore safety to areas previously under enemy control. Special forces were already in Kherson City, with additional troops on the way.
Other bridges across the Dnipro River have also been damaged, including the Antonivsky bridge, the main crossing over the Dnipro. Video footage posted by Russian military bloggers on Telegram on Friday showed the bridge had plunged into the river, forcing some Russian troops to cross on pontoons.
Ukrainian officials have urged caution as its military enters Kherson city and warned that Russian forces are not yet completely gone. Ukraine’s defence intelligence said on Friday it suspected that remaining Russian forces had dressed in civilian clothes to try to avoid being captured.
“Our defenders are approaching the city; there is still quite a bit left and we are starting to enter,” Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday. “Special units are already in the city.”
He said once forces reached the city they would start efforts to clear the city of mines and make it accessible again.
Photos and videos of jubilant Kherson residents continued to be circulated on social media on Saturday, with residents in the city’s central square waving blue and yellow Ukrainian flags, draping the flags around themselves and hugging soldiers.
Kherson city has been without power, water or mobile network for several days.