Ukrainian president visits Kherson, celebrates Russian retreat
- Ukrainian president visits recaptured city of Kherson
- Zelenskiy thanks NATO and other allies for support
- He says it's important to show support for Kherson
KHERSON, Ukraine, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited the southern city of Kherson on Monday to celebrate its recapture from Russian forces with joyful residents and troops after months of Russian occupation.
He expressed hope that Russia's retreat from Kherson last week following a Ukrainian counter-offensive might mark the beginning of the end of the war.
"We are moving forward," Zelenskiy told reporters in Kherson after addressing troops in front of the administration building in the main square. "We are ready for peace, peace for all our country."
Military gains are expected to become harder as winter sets in. But, asked whether the recapture of Kherson could be the beginning of the end of the war, Zelenskiy replied: "Of course. "You see our strong army. We are step by step coming (moving) through our country, the temporarily occupied territories."
Zelenskiy thanked NATO and other allies for their support and said the delivery of high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) from the United States had made a big difference to Ukraine's war effort.
Parents with children, some pushing baby strollers, also gathered in the main square in front of the administration building that until recently was occupied by Russian forces.
Some people waved Ukrainian flags and others had the flag draped over their shoulders.
"I’m really happy, you can tell by the reaction of the people, their reaction is not staged," said Zelenskiy, who was flanked by heavily armed security guards.
He said it was important to visit Kherson to show support for residents who endured about eight months of Russian occupation and to demonstrate to them that "we are really returning, we really raise our flag."
The president spent about 30 minutes in Kherson before leaving. Minutes before he arrived, nearby shelling could be heard in the centre of Kherson. After he finished speaking, several more blasts of artillery gunfire echoed over the city.
Ukrainian troops reached the centre of Kherson on Friday after Russia abandoned the only regional capital it had captured since the Feb. 24 invasion.
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.
Ukraine has said it is ready for peace talks but not with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Foreign Ministry spokesman reiterated Ukraine's terms on Facebook on Monday.
"Ukraine's peace formula remains unchanged: an immediate end to the war, the withdrawal of all Russian troops, the restoration of Ukrainian territorial integrity, compensation for the damage caused, and the provision of effective guarantees of non-repetition of aggression," he wrote.
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