The high emotions of the city were summed up in a 9-second video that was shared widely across social media this weekend.
A Ukrainian soldier, Oleh, was one of the first to enter Kherson and went straight to his grandmother’s house. His grandma, Lidya Malahoval, can be seen collapsing to the floor and weeping.
Like so many, Malahoval was without power and had not seen the footage of their reunion — the emotions came flooding back 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’s running to me, that he’s alive.” she said. She watches the moment again and again on a smartphone, kissing the screen when her grandson appears.
Oleksiy Hodzenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, was receiving hugs and thanks from repeated well-wishers in Kherson on Monday.
“The flags, they must have been hiding them for months, some of them underground,” he said. “Now people are happy as they understand that life is coming back. Where there is Moscow there is no life, only death.”
Steve Andre, from Detroit, Michigan, said he joined the Ukrainian army as a volunteer two months ago. On Monday he was shaking hands and signing autographs — in English — in Kherson.
“It’s incredible, you kind of feel like a rock star,” he said.
“We’re incredibly happy but we’re bittersweet about it — this is a liberated city but we’ve paid for it with our blood and that’s important for us to remember.”
In an overnight address prior to his visit, however, Zelenskyy stressed that the true picture of the ongoing Russian threat to the area and the brutality of the occupation was just beginning to be understood.
Ukrainian prosecutors have evidence of more than 400 separate Russian war crimes, he said.
“Bodies of dead civilians and servicemen have been found,” he said. “The Russian army left behind the same savagery it did in other regions of the country it entered.”
Ukrainian officials and international allies say mass graves in Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel are just some 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 supply 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 broader region — could make this task a real challenge.