Obviously the situation is still unclear and there is a lot of chaos, so maybe Ukraine will round up a lot of prisoners yet. In a Telegram post from Wednesday night, one Russian soldier said "The last order was to change into civilian clothes and f*ck off any way you can." But so far there is no sign that a single large body of Russian troops has been captured.
This is a major victory for Ukraine. Kherson was the only regional capital Russia conquered during its initial invasion, and the largest city they were able to take. Surrendering it is a significant blow. Because Kherson has not yet been much fought over, it is still largely intact and thus a valuable asset for Ukraine.
On the other hand, military experts have been saying for months that it would not be possible for Russia to hold on west of the river, with the bridges blown and ferry traffic under constant artillery fire. Supply was too difficult. Also, withdrawing east of the river will free up thousands of men that Russia desperately needs elsewhere.
Two questions. First, what does this mean for Russia moving forward? Will this be a decisive blow against their morale? Will it lead to more political shakeups?
Lots of Russians are reacting like this guy:
Here's an interesting observation:
Many people are wondering why the Russian MoD announced the retreat from Kherson on TV. It was done to show that it isn't a retreat, but a controlled withdrawal process. It was also done by the MoD, so Shoygu and Surovikin take all the blame and Putin bears no responsibility.
So, obviously, this is bad for Russia, and it might turn out to be very, very bad.
But I am not certain it is a great sign for Ukraine, either. When your enemy has been signalling his imminent withdrawal for months, and then announces it on television, and you still can't trap any significant portion of his force, what does that say about your army? Except for during the Balakliya -Kupyansk breakout in September, the Ukrainian army has always moved slowly and methodically. And even during that September rampage, they pulled up short. When they took Kupyansk the town of Svatove was open and undefended, ten miles ahead of them, but rather than lunge forward to sieze it, they stopped at the Oskil River. Now they have been slowly pushing toward Svatove for a month, taking losses the whole way.
They have forgotten the old military lesson that if the enemy is running, you have to pursue until your men drop.
At the start of a campaign, to advance or not to advance is a matter for grave consideration, but once the offensive has been assumed, it must be sustained to the last extremity.
Or, from a different sort of military leader, Nathan Bedford Forrest:
You gotta keep up a skeer.
Shaped by years of trench warfare in Donbass, Ukrainian commanders seem to lack the aggression and speed necessary for decisive attacks. Perhaps they are very worried about the setback that the loss of an armored spearhead would represent, both materially and morally. Perhaps on a battlefield where Russia has more planes and lots of drones and still plenty of modern artillery, this really would be extremely dangerous.
But if you project Ukraine's rate of progress into the future, it would be many years before they achieved their goal of reconquering all their territory. To have any chance of reconquering all or most of that land, they must be willing to take much bigger risks than have so far. In Kherson they seem to have waited for their artillery to make the Russian position untenable, then walked along behind the retreating Russians, thinking that retaking all these towns without a fight is good enough.
Unless there is some kind of dramatic change in Moscow, this is going to be a long, long war.