For the first time in more than eight months, joyful Ukrainians arrived in Kherson by train on Saturday. Kherson’s citizens welcomed them on the platform with flowers and flags of their country.
Shortly after getting off the sleeper train from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, Hryhorii Vyrtosa, a 67-year-old construction worker, remarked, “I can’t even put my sentiments into words.”
On November 11, Ukrainian soldiers freed Kherson from Russian rule, dealing another significant military setback to Moscow. Since the invasion on February 24, it had been the only provincial capital that Russian forces had taken control of.
Saturday’s journey marked the first time Vyrtosa, a native of Kherson region with Moldovan roots, was able to return after escaping the Russian-occupied city of Skadovsk in April.
Upon arriving, a beaming Vyrtosa fulfilled his pledge to shout “Glory to Ukraine” upon arrival. He then tightly hugged his son, who he had not seen in eight months.
Hundreds of residents of the city, which is currently without electricity, running water or central heating, cheered as they welcomed the train.
The train, which was brightly painted by various Ukrainian artists and featured slogans such as “People of Steel”, departed Kyiv late on Friday following a celebratory event at the main railway station.
The event included a performance by Ukrainian rock singer Oleh Skrypka, with passengers in the crowd, including Ukrainian soldiers, singing along.
Tickets to Kherson first went on sale weeks before its liberation as part of a “Train to Victory” initiative between Ukrainian Railways and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s United24 fundraising initiative.
The southeastern city of Mariupol, which was heavily damaged earlier this year and is still occupied by Russian forces, is among the other destinations.