Jubilant Ukrainians have raised flags and celebrated inside Kherson after Russian forces withdrew from the city in a hasty retreat in which some Kremlin soldiers apparently drowned.
Hours after the Russian forces completed their withdrawal, Ukrainian units re-entered the southern city, which had been occupied since March.
Local residents hugged Ukrainian soldiers, cheering in the streets and climbing on monuments to fly the national flag.
Sky’s Alex Rossi, reporting from Kherson region, said: “One woman told me that she has been pretty much living in her basement since the Russians took control of the area – many, many months, effectively living underground, living in fear.
“And she was absolutely delighted to see the Ukrainian soldiers that we were with.”
The retreat is a significant blow to Vladimir Putin’s invasion and a major turning point in the eight-month war, with one expert predicting it could ultimately bring down the president.
Carl Bildt, co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations, suggested the spate of embarrassing defeats will lead to Mr Putin being deposed.
“Kherson right now – a picture Vladimir Putin said would never happen. It’s his third major defeat in this war – Kyiv, Kharkiv and now Kherson. At the end, he will lose the Kremlin as well,” he tweeted.
The withdrawal began two days ago when Russia’s top commander in Ukraine said it is no longer possible to supply the city and other parts of the west bank of the Dnipro River that it sits on.
In a statement carried by Russia‘s state news agencies, the defence ministry said it was finished at 5am on Friday and that no military equipment was left on the west bank.
Residents of the city, the only regional capital that Moscow had seized during the war, were asked to stay at home while searches for remaining Russian soldiers were carried out.
That did not stop the crowds gathering in the streets to celebrate the Russians’ retreat.
The Russian defence ministry said it had withdrawn 30,000 soldiers to the eastern side of the river.
Many Russian soldiers drowned while trying to leave, a member of the Kherson regional council said.
Recapturing the city could provide Ukraine a launching pad for supplies and troops to try to win back other lost territory in the south, including Crimea, which Moscow seized in 2014.
A Kremlin spokesman has refused to acknowledge the retreat as humiliating for Mr Putin.
Dmitry Peskov said Moscow continues to view the Kherson region as part of Russia.
“It is a subject of the Russian Federation – it is legally fixed and defined,” he said.
“There are no changes and there can be no changes.”
Shortly before the Russian announcement, the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the situation in the Kherson region as “difficult”.
It reported Russian shelling of some of the villages and towns Ukrainian forces reclaimed in recent weeks during their counteroffensive in the Kherson region.
A road bridge that links Kherson to the east bank of the Dnipro River also appears to have collapsed.
Ukraine’s public broadcaster, Suspilne, quoted local residents confirming the news on Friday.
It is not immediately clear what caused the apparent collapse, but Russian media reports suggested the bridge was blown up after the withdrawal.