Zelensky makes huge claim for Russian war: 'Beginning of the end'
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky walked the streets of the newly liberated city of Kherson, hailing Russia's withdrawal as the "beginning of the end of the war."
He also acknowledged on Monday (local time) the heavy price Ukrainian troops are paying in their grinding effort to push back the invaders.
The retaking of Kherson was one of Ukraine's biggest successes in the nearly nine-month-old war, dealing another stinging blow to the Kremlin. It could serve as a springboard for more advances into occupied territory.
President Joe Biden called it a "significant victory" for Ukraine.
"I can do nothing but applaud the courage, determination and capacity of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian military," he said on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Indonesia.
Large parts of eastern and southern Ukraine are still under Russian control, and the city of Kherson itself remains within reach of Moscow's shells and missiles. Heavy fighting continued elsewhere in the country on Monday.
In Kherson, Zelensky awarded medals to soldiers and posed with them for selfies while striking a defiant note.
"This is the beginning of the end of the war," he said. "We are step by step coming to all the temporarily occupied territories."
But he also grimly noted that the fighting "took the best heroes of our country."
The end of Russia's occupation of the city has sparked days of celebration. But with winter approaching, its residents are without heat, water and electricity, and short on food and medicine.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, while visiting The Hague, warned that "we should not make the mistake of underestimating Russia."
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"The Russian armed forces retain significant capability as well as a large number of troops, and Russia has demonstrated their willingness to bear significant losses," he said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on Zelensky's visit, saying only that "you know that it is the territory of the Russian Federation." Russia illegally annexed the Kherson region and three other provinces earlier this year.
Residents said Russian troops plundered the city as they departed last week. They also wrecked key infrastructure before retreating across the wide Dnieper River to its east bank.
One Ukrainian official described the situation in Kherson as "a humanitarian catastrophe."
Biden said he expected things to slow down somewhat militarily "because of the winter months and the inability to move as easily around the country."
In the past two months, Ukraine's military claimed to have retaken dozens of towns and villages north of the city of Kherson, which is a key gateway to the Crimean Peninsula to the south - a region illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
But the grinding war continued - with shelling, civilian casualties and each side reporting gains.
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