The city’s high emotions were summed up in a 9-second video that was widely shared on social media over the weekend.
A Ukrainian soldier, Oleh, was one of the first to enter Kherson and go straight to his grandmother’s house. His grandmother, Lidya Malahoval, may fall to the floor crying.
Like many, Malahoval was without power and hadn’t seen the footage from their reunion — the emotions returned to her later when NBC News found her and showed her the video.
“I was so, so happy to see him, my grandson, that he runs to me, that he is still alive.” she said. She watches the moment over and over on a smartphone and kisses the screen when her grandson appears.
Oleksiy Hodzenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s defense ministry, received hugs and thanks from repeated benefactors in Kherson on Monday.
“The flags, they must have kept them hidden for months, some underground,” he said. “Now people are happy when they understand that life is coming back. Where Moscow is, there is no life, only death.”
Steve Andre, of Detroit, Michigan, said he volunteered in the Ukrainian army two months ago. On Monday, he shook hands and signed – in English – in Kherson.
“It’s unbelievable, you kind of feel like a rock star,” he said.
“We are incredibly happy, but we are bittersweet about it – this is a liberated city, but we paid for it with our blood and that is important for us to remember.”
However, in a nightly speech prior to his visit, Zelenskyy emphasized that the true picture of the ongoing Russian threat to the area and the brutality of the occupation was just beginning to understand.
Ukrainian prosecutors have evidence of more than 400 separate Russian war crimes, he said.
“Bodies of dead civilians and soldiers have been found,” he said. “The Russian army has left the same brutality as in other regions of the country it entered.”
Ukrainian officials and international allies say mass graves in Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel are just a few examples of Russian war crimes. Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians during the war and NBC News has not verified the claims.
Ukraine’s immediate concern is to provide the city with water, power, food and medicine, all of which are in short supply. The ongoing conflict nearby – Russia still controls about 70% of the wider region – could make this task a real challenge.