Zelenskyy: Battle for Kherson was D-Day-like watershed

Russia At War

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy listens to the national anthem during his visit to Kherson, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. Ukraine’s retaking of Kherson was a significant setback for the Kremlin and it came some six weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed the Kherson region and three other provinces in southern and eastern Ukraine — in breach of international law — and declared them Russian territory. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday likened the recapture of the southern city of Kherson to the Allied landings in France on D-Day in World War II, saying both were watersheds on the road to eventual victory.

Ukrainian police, meanwhile, announced plans to investigate alleged Russian torture sites in now-retaken areas, and U.N. investigators said they’ll look into enforced disappearances and detentions.

Speaking via video link to a Group of 20 summit in Indonesia, Zelenskyy said Kherson’s liberation from eight months of Russian occupation was “reminiscent of many battles in the past, which became turning points in the wars.”

“It’s like, for example, D-Day — the landing of the Allies in Normandy. It was not yet a final point in the fight against evil, but it already determined the entire further course of events. This is exactly what we are feeling now,” he said.

The retaking of Kherson was one of Ukraine’s biggest successes in the nearly 9-month-old Russian invasion and dealt another stinging blow to the Kremlin. But large parts of eastern and southern Ukraine remain under Russian control and fighting continues. Ukrainian authorities on Tuesday reported another civilian death, from Russian shelling, in eastern Ukraine — adding to the invasion’s heavy toll of many tens of thousands killed and wounded.

The liberation of Kherson — the only provincial capital that Moscow had seized — has sparked days of celebration in Ukraine and allowed families to be reunited for the first time in months. But as winter approaches, the city’s remaining 80,000 residents are without heat, water or electricity, and short on food and medicine.

Still, U.S. President Joe Biden called it a “significant victory” for Ukraine. Speaking on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, Biden added: “We’re going to continue to provide the capability for the Ukrainian people to defend themselves.”

In his address to the G-20, Zelenskyy called for the creation of a special tribunal to try Russian military and political figures for the crime of aggression against Ukraine, and the creation of an international mechanism to compensate Kyiv for wartime deaths and destruction.

Zelenskyy referred to the G-20 meeting as “the G-19 summit,” adhering to Kyiv’s line that Russia should be excluded from the grouping.

“Everywhere, when we liberate our land, we see one thing — Russia leaves behind torture chambers and mass burials. … How many mass graves are there in the territory that still remains under the control of Russia?” Zelenskyy pointedly asked.

Ukrainian authorities say they are finding indications of atrocities in Kherson, just as in other liberated areas. The head of the National Police of Ukraine, Igor Klymenko, said Tuesday that authorities are to start investigating reports from Kherson residents that Russian forces set up at least three alleged torture sites in now-liberated parts of the wider Kherson region and that “our people may have been detained and tortured there.”

“Mine clearance is currently underway. After that, I think, today, investigative actions will begin,” he said on Ukrainian TV.

U.N. investigators also want to travel to the city to verify allegations of nearly 80 cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention and “understand whether the scale is in fact larger than what we have documented already,” said the head of the U.N. human rights office’s monitoring mission in Ukraine, Matilda Bogner.

She warned of a “dire humanitarian situation” in Kherson.

Speaking by video from Kyiv, Bogner also provided an update of her office’s work on the treatment of prisoners of war. Some former Ukrainian POWs recounted an array of physical abuse, “including being stabbed, shot with a stun gun, threatened with mock executions, being hung by the hands or legs, and burned with cigarettes,” she said. Some described electric shocks to their genitals, or being pulled by a rope around them, she added.

Zelenskyy made a triumphant surprise visit on Monday to Kherson. He hailed the Russian retreat from the southern city as the “beginning of the end of the war,” but also acknowledged the heavy price Ukrainian soldiers are paying in their grinding effort to push back Russia’s invasion forces.

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