Russia to withdraw troops from Kherson after key official 'dies in car crash'

Watch ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo reports from Kyiv, Ukraine, as Russia withdraws from the Kherson region.

Russia's military has announced it is withdrawing from the western bank of the Dnieper River in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, which was annexed in September.

Moscow's top military commander in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, admitted it was impossible to deliver supplies to the city of Kherson and other nearby areas.

He relayed the bad news to defence minister Sergei Shoigu, who on Wednesday agreed with his proposal to retreat and set up defences on the eastern bank.

Meanwhile Moscow's installed deputy head of the region, Kirill Stremousov, has died in what the Kremlin said was a car crash.

Russian forces are now reported to be damaging bridges to delay the advancement of Ukrainian troops.

A Ukrainian police investigator at the site of the recent shelling in Kramatorsk, in Donetsk, one of the other annexed regions. Credit: AP

Kherson is the only regional capital in Ukraine that Russian forces managed to seize during its eight-month occupation, meaning its withdrawal is a major setback for Vladimir Putin.

Ukrainian forces have been making good progress in the area, since the summer clawing back occupied territory from Russia.

But despite reports of rapid advancement, the battle for the region has been slowed by bad weather and heavy casualties on both sides.

Ukrainian authorities did not immediately confirm the withdrawal from Kherson, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has suggested in recent days that the Russians were feigning a pullout in order to lure the Ukrainian army into an entrenched battle.

Zelenskyy called attempts to convince civilians to move deeper into Russian-controlled territory “theatre.”

Ukrainian and Russian forces also clashed overnight over Snihurivka, a town about 30 miles north of Kherson.

Kherson and parts of the surrounding region were seized in the opening days of the conflict as Russian troops pushed their attack north from Crimea — the area illegally annexed by the Kremlin in 2014. In recent months, Ukraine used US-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers to repeatedly hit a key bridge on the Dnieper in Kherson and a large dam upstream that is also used as a crossing point.

The strikes forced Russia to rely on pontoons and ferries, which also became targets. Moscow's announcement came as villages and towns in Ukraine saw more heavy fighting and shelling on Wednesday. At least nine civilians were killed and 24 others were wounded in 24 hours, the Ukrainian president's office said.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu announced the withdrawal on Wednesday. Credit: AP

It accused Russia of using explosive drones, rockets, heavy artillery and aircraft to attack eight regions in the country’s southeast.

Mr Zelenskyy's office said widespread Russian strikes on Ukraine’s energy system continued. Two cities not far from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant were shelled overnight, it said.

More than 20 residential buildings, an industrial plant, a gas pipeline and a power line were reportedly damaged in Nikopol, which lies across the Dnieper River from the the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Further west, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, the Ukrainian governor reported “massive” overnight strikes with exploding Iranian-made drones that wounded four energy company workers in the city of Dnipro.

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“Attacks on civilian infrastructure are war crimes in themselves. The Kremlin is at war with Ukrainian civilians, trying to leave millions of people without water and light for them to freeze in the winter,” Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko said on Ukrainian TV.

The Kherson region is one of four Ukrainian provinces that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed and subsequently placed under Russian martial law. The Russian military has concentrated much of its firepower on securing control of the others - Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia.