Kherson was the first regional capital that the Russian army captured after the invasion of Ukraine. A few weeks ago, Putin declared that Russia had annexed four regions of Ukraine, including Kherson, and henceforth they would be “forever Russian.” That occurred at the same time that Russian troops were retreating before the Ukrainian forces. A few days ago, Russian troops abandoned Kherson, and Ukrainian troops arrived. They were greeted by jubilant crowds waving the Ukrainian flag and singing the Ukrainian national anthem.

But before the troops left, they carried out a special mission for V. Putin. They robbed the grave of Potemkin, who conquered Ukraine on behalf of Russia and Empress Catherine the Great in the 18th century. Simon Sebag Montefiore, a British historian of Russia, reports at the website Airmail that Putin is obsessed with Potemkin. Potemkin is Putin’s role model. His body was buried in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Kherson. Before the Russians evacuated Kherson, they removed Potemkin’s bones and sent them to Moscow.

The New York Times reported the failure of “Russification” in Kherson:

A Ukrainian tearing down a billboard with the slogan “We are together with the Russian government” in Kherson, Ukraine, on Sunday.
A Ukrainian tearing down a billboard with the slogan “We are together with the Russian government” in Kherson, Ukraine, on Sunday.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

KHERSON, Ukraine — Iryna Dyagileva’s daughter attended a school where the curriculum included memorizing the Russian national anthem.

But teachers ignored it, instead quietly greeting students in the morning with a salute: “Glory to Ukraine!”

The occupation authorities asked Olha Malyarchuk, a clerk at a taxi company, to settle bills in rubles. But she kept paying in the Ukrainian currency, hryvnia.

“It just didn’t work,” she said of Russian propaganda, beamed into homes through televisions and plastered on billboards for the nine months of Russia’s occupation of Kherson. On Sunday, she was walking in a park, waving a small Ukrainian flag.

One roadside billboard proclaimed in bold text, “We are together with Russia!” But a teenager who offered only his first name, Oleksandr, had shimmied up the supporting pole on Sunday and was tearing the sign to pieces. Asked how he felt, he said, “free.”

The Ukrainian army has reclaimed hundreds of villages in towns in three major counteroffensives, north of Kyiv, in the northeastern Kharkiv region and now in the southern Kherson region.

But the city of Kherson stands out: it was the focus of a major Russian campaign to assimilate the citizenry and stamp out of the Ukrainian identity. Judging by his assertions that Ukrainians and Russians are one nation, it was a goal President Vladimir V. Putin had harbored for all of Ukraine, had his military been more successful.

After Russian forces captured Kherson in the early days of the war, Ukrainian national songs were banned in the city. Speaking Ukrainian could lead to arrest. Schools adopted a Russian curriculum, and young students were to be told that they were Russians, not Ukrainians.

In the first hours and days after the city’s recapture by the Ukrainian army, signs have emerged suggesting that the Russian attempt was a largely futile effort, at least among those who remained in the city.

Many pro-Russian residents had evacuated as Ukraine’s army advance on the city, and the Kremlin-installed authorities had encouraged residents to leave. Many local government officials had collaborated with the Russians.

Serhiy Bloshko, a construction worker, had lived at the homes of friends through the nine-month occupation, fearful he’d be arrested for joining anti-occupation protests in March that broke out soon after the Russian army arrived. Soldiers indeed went to his home, he said. Not finding him, they made off with his television and refrigerator, he said.

“They repressed the pro-Ukrainian population,” he said while waiting in a line for water on Sunday afternoon. Friends had been detained and vanished, he said. Of the cultural assimilation effort, he said, “what happened here was ethnic cleansing.”

The entry into his city of the two armies, one in February and the other last week, was telling, he said.

“When our soldiers drove in, their machine guns were pointed up, into the air,” Mr. Bloshko said. “When the Russians drove in, their guns were pointed at the people. That explains everything. And they said they were our liberators.”