Ukrainians celebrate as Kherson recaptured

Ukrainian troops have been greeted by joyous residents in the centre of Kherson after Russia abandoned the only regional capital it had captured since its invasion in February.

"Today is a historic day. We are getting the south of the country back. We are getting Kherson back," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an evening video address.

"As of now, our defenders are on the outskirts of the city and we are very close to entering, but special units are already in the city," he said.

Russia said it had withdrawn 30,000 troops across the Dnipro River without losing a single soldier but Ukrainians painted a picture of a chaotic retreat, with Russian troops ditching their uniforms, dropping weapons and drowning while trying to flee.

The withdrawal marked the third major Russian retreat of the war and the first to involve yielding such a large occupied city in the face of a major Ukrainian counter-offensive that has retaken parts of the east and south.

Video footage verified by Reuters showed dozens of people cheering and chanting victory slogans in Kherson city's central square, where the apparent first Ukrainian troops to arrive snapped selfies in the crowd.

Two men hoisted a female soldier on their shoulders and tossed her into the air.

Some residents wrapped themselves in Ukrainian flags.

One man was weeping with joy.

Ukraine's defence intelligence agency said Kherson was being restored to Ukrainian control and ordered any remaining Russian troops to surrender to Kyiv's forces entering the city.

Zelenskiy said measures to make Kherson safe - in particular, removing what he called a large number of landmines - would start as soon as possible.

Dmitry Rogozin, a senior Russian official giving military advice to two occupied regions of Ukraine Moscow claims as its own, said on Friday the withdrawal across the Dnipro was painful but necessary, RIA news agency said.

He suggested Moscow could regroup and launch another offensive.

"We must carry out this task, hoping that when we gather our strength, when new weapons arrive, when well-trained mobilised units arrive, when volunteers arrive, we will rally and take back this land," the agency cited him as saying.

As Ukrainian forces surged forward during one of the most humiliating Russian retreats of the war, villagers came out of hiding and described how Russian troops had killed residents and looted homes.

Reuters could not independently verify the accounts and Russia's defence ministry did not immediately respond to questions about allegations made by residents of the recaptured village of Blahodatne, 20km north of Kherson.

A number of Russian soldiers drowned in the Dnipro river trying to escape and others had changed into civilian clothing, a Kherson official said, advising residents not to leave their homes while searches for remaining Russian troops took place.

Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military's southern command, said "saboteur operations cannot be ruled out" by Russian troops in civilian clothes.

Earlier, the Russian defence ministry said it had finished its withdrawal from the western bank of the Dnipro river, where Kherson city lies, two days after Moscow announced the retreat.

Kherson province is one of four regions Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed from Ukraine in late September.

It is also strategically important as the land gateway to Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014 and where Moscow's Black Sea fleet is based.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the decision to retreat from Kherson was taken by the defence ministry.

Asked by reporters if it was humiliating for Putin, Peskov said: "No."