Russia Gains Strategic Advantage by Taking Southern City of Kherson

Kherson, a key strategic point along the Black Sea, has been captured by Russia, making it the first major Ukrainian city to fall to invading Russian forces.

As the fighting raged into its seventh day, throngs of the Russian military were seen advancing upon the city of approximately 300,000 people. By Wednesday, reports emerged that the city center had fallen to the Russians, with the Russian Defence Ministry saying that its military had "taken full control" of Kherson.

While the Ukrainian government has disputed Russia's claim that the city has been captured, Kherson Mayor Ihor Kolykhaiev said in a translated Facebook post that: "There were armed visitors in the city council today."

See posts, photos and more on Facebook.

"We have shown that we are working to secure the city and are trying to eliminate the consequences of the invasion," Kolykhaiev said. "We don't have Ukrainian Armed Forces in the city."

Additionally, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, reporting from Ukraine, said Wednesday: "It does look a lot like the Russian military have significant control around Kherson, and this Facebook post suggests, too, they may have come to an accommodation, albeit one that sounds a lot like occupation under martial law by Russian troops."

A curfew was reportedly imposed by the Russian occupying forces following Kherson's fall, in addition to a ban on people walking together in groups.

Kharkiv City
Russian forces have reportedly captured the Ukrainian city of Kherson, marking the first major metropolis to fall to invading forces since Russia began its assault. The city provides a strategic advantage to the Russians owing to its port location. Here, damage in the city center of another city, Kharkiv, can be seen after a day of heavy shelling from Russian artillery. Sergey Bobok/Getty

The capture of Kherson represents a major strategic victory for the Russian army as it continues its efforts to annex Ukraine. The home of a significant shipbuilding industry and a major economic hub for the country, Kherson is located along Ukraine's longest waterway, the Dnieper River, which provides access to significant portions of inland Ukraine.

Kherson also provides access to the Russian-annexed territory of Crimea as well as the critical port city of Odessa.

Most importantly to the Russians, though, will likely be Kherson's position on the Black Sea, which could allow the military to exploit its strategic location. The body of water is a key economic lifeline for Eastern Europe that provides access to the neighboring countries of Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova—the latter of which Russia has already been rumored to be preparing an invasion.

"Kherson is a key for southern Ukraine," lawyer Sergiy Dmitruk told The Globe and Mail.

Kherson's fall comes as the Russian military continues an aggressive assault on another major Ukrainian metropolis—Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city. Reports of Russian paratroopers entering Kharkiv, along with explosions that rocked major parts of the city, were seen Wednesday.

The continued assault could make Kharkiv the second major Ukrainian city to fall into Russian hands. Amidst the violence, Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said in a video message: "We never expected this could happen. Total destruction, annihilation, genocide against the Ukrainian people—this is unforgivable."

The Russians have continued to advance through strategic points despite encountering heavy resistance from Ukrainian fighters. In particular, concern was raised after the military moved to capture potentially environmentally harmful locations, including Ukrainian nuclear facilities.

This includes the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The plant—the largest in Europe and among the top 10 largest in the world—is currently surrounded by Russian forces.

Another infamous spot is the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, a decommissioned facility that was the site of a deadly nuclear disaster in 1986, which is also currently under Russian control.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told Newsweek, "We've seen the public statements from local authorities, but [it's] not something we're in a position to speak to."

Update (03/02/2022, 9:45 p.m. ET): This story has been updated with a statement from the U.S. State Department.