Nov. 14 (UPI) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Kherson on Monday, days after Russian troops were forced to evacuate the regional capital, handing Moscow one of its biggest losses since the start of its invasion.
“We are, step by step, coming to all of our country,” Zelensky told a crowd of hundreds of people in Kherson. “I am happy we are in Kherson.”
Wearing a hoodie, Zelensky stayed for about 10 minutes in front of the Kherson regional administration building, but the crowds around him lingered on, apparently encouraged by his presence. Ukrainian officials did ask residents to leave the city because of limited electricity and clean drinking water until infrastructure repairs were made.
In September, Russia proclaimed it had annexed Kherson and three other territories in Ukraine, a move the international community decried as illegal. When asked about Zelensky’s visit to Kherson, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov continued to insist Kherson remained Russian territory.
“We leave this without comment,” Peskov said. “You know, this territory is part of the Russian Federation.”
Zelensky has accused Russian soldiers of committing hundreds of war crimes in the Kherson region, which Ukrainian forces recovered last week from its retreating occupiers.
Russia ordered its troops Wednesday to leave Kherson under pressure of Ukraine’s counteroffensive that has recaptured thousands of miles of territory previously seized by Moscow amid its nearly nine-month-long war.
Kherson, which Russia had captured early in its invasion, is also one of four regions that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he had formally annexed in early October.
In the absence of Russian forces, investigators have documented more than 400 war crimes committed by Kremlin troops, Zelensky said in his nightly address Sunday.
“In Kherson region, the Russian army left behind the same atrocities as in other regions of our country, where it was able to enter,” he said. “We will find and bring to justice every murderer. Without a doubt.”
The president said the bodies of civilians and military personnel have been found in Kherson.
Specifics of the alleged war crimes were not listed, but Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russia of committing such offenses.
Following the liberation of Ukrainian regions, Kyiv has documented several mass graves, where the bodies of hundreds of civilians displaying evidence of execution and torture were buried.
Countrywide, Ukraine accuses Russia of committing more than 46,000 war crimes and crimes of aggression. Its office of the prosecutor general states that at least 430 children have been killed in the war and another 829 injured. The office said Kharkiv was where the second-highest number of child casualties at 264 occurred.
The United Nations said Monday that more than 6,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion of the country started in February with another 10,000 injured.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said more than half of those have been killed in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where much of the territory has been controlled by Russian separatists since 2014 and is currently occupied by Russia.
Russia had also illegally declared that the two regions along with Zaporizhzhia and Kherson had been annexed in September.
“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects, including shelling from heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles and airstrikes,” the report said.
“OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration.”
For example, the report said totals from Mariupol, Izium, Lysychansk, Popasna, and Sievierodonetsk — where some of the most fierce battles between Moscow and Kyiv troopers have taken place — are not completed.
U.N. officials in Ukraine said Humanitarian Coordinator Denise Brown led an effort to deliver supplies to help thousands of civilians in the city of Kherson after it was evacuated by Russian forces last week. Russia had been in control of the city since March.
“The people of Kherson are struggling to meet their basic needs, only adding to the trauma of having endured months of constant bombardments, being forced to flee their homes, and seeing their loved ones being killed or injured,” Brown said in a statement.
“The people need urgent support, and we must act quickly to help them.”
The United Nations has also repeatedly said war crimes, including violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, have been committed in Ukraine.
In mid-October, a U.N. commission produced a report that said its investigators have documented an array of violations by the Russian forces, including attacks of explosive weapons used indiscriminately in populated areas and soldiers attacking fleeing civilians.
“The commission documented patterns of summary executions, unlawful confinement, torture, ill-treatment, rape and other sexual violence committed in areas occupied by Russian armed forces,” it said. “People have been detained, some have been unlawfully deported to the Russian Federation and many are still reported missing.
“Sexual violence has affected victims of all ages. Family members, including children, were sometimes forced to witness the crimes.”
The report states that both sides have committed violations, but the “Russian armed forces are responsible for the vast majority.”