Jubilant Ukrainians have rolled into Kherson by train for the first time in more than eight months as residents of the newly liberated southern city greeted them on the platform with flowers and flags.
"I can't even put my feelings into words," said Hryhorii Vyrtosa, a 67-year-old construction worker, shortly after stepping off the overnight route from the capital Kyiv.
Ukrainian forces liberated Kherson from Russian occupation on November 11.
It had been the only regional capital captured by Russian forces since the February 24 invasion.
Saturday's journey marked the first time Vyrtosa, a native of Kherson region with Moldovan roots, was able to return after escaping the Russian-occupied city of Skadovsk in April.
Upon arriving, a beaming Vyrtosa fulfilled his pledge to shout "Glory to Ukraine" in Kherson.
He then tightly hugged his son, who he had not seen in eight months.
Hundreds of residents of the city, which is currently without electricity, running water or central heating, cheered as they welcomed the train.
"It's a symbol of freedom. It's happiness," said Maria Matsenko, 66, who was holding a Ukrainian flag while waiting on the platform with her friend.
The train, which was brightly painted by various Ukrainian artists and featured slogans such as "People of Steel," departed Kyiv late on Friday following a celebratory event at the main railway station.
The event included a performance by Ukrainian rock singer Oleh Skrypka, with passengers in the crowd, including Ukrainian soldiers, singing along.
Tickets to Kherson first went on sale weeks before its liberation as part of a "Train to Victory" initiative between Ukrainian Railways and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's United24 fundraising initiative.
The southeastern city of Mariupol, which was heavily damaged earlier this year and is still occupied by Russian forces, is among the other destinations.
Meanwhile, Russian and Ukrainian troops have continued fighting in a variety of hotspots, deploying tanks, rocket artillery and grenade launchers, according to officials in Kyiv.
The Ukrainian military said up to 60 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded in Zaporizhzhia's Mykhailovka region alone.
The information could not be independently verified.
The Ukrainian general staff said on Saturday that Russia has stepped up its troops presence in Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.
They added that, in order to accommodate the many soldiers, part of the civilian population was being forcibly resettled to other areas.