Russian troops enter strategic Black Sea port city of Kherson, mayor says

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Local residents remove debris of a residential building destroyed by shelling, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in Zhytomyr, Ukraine March 2, 2022. REUTERS/Viacheslav Ratynskyi

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KYIV/KHARKIV, Ukraine, March 3 (Reuters) - Russian troops are in the Ukrainian city of Kherson and forced their way into the council building, the mayor said after a day of conflicting claims over whether Moscow had make the first major gain of a city in its invasion that began eight days ago.

Moscow's attack on its neighbour has yet to overthrow the government in Kyiv but thousands are thought to have died or been injured and it could cause another deep hit to the global economy still emerging from the coronavirus pandemic.

The biggest attack on a European state since 1945 has caused over 870,000 people to flee, led to a barrage of sanctions against Russia, and stoked fears of wider conflict in the West unthought-of for decades.

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The Black Sea port of Kherson, a southern provincial capital of around 250,000 people, is strategically placed where the Dnipro River flows into the Black Sea and would be the first significant city to fall into Moscow's hands.

Russia's defence ministry said on Wednesday morning it had captured Kherson but several hours later an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy responded that the Ukrainian side was continuing to defend the location.

Late on Wednesday, Mayor Igor Kolykhayev said Russian troops were in the streets.

"There were armed visitors in the city executive committee today," he said in a statement. "My team and I are peaceful people - we had no weapons and there was no aggression from our side."

"I didn't make any promises to them... I just asked them not to shoot people," he wrote.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special operation" that is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its neighbour's military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists. It denies targeting civilians.

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Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets and Aleksandar Vasovic in Ukraine, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and other Reuters bureaux; writing by Costas Pitas; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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