Russia's gradual retreat reached a sudden climax on Nov. 9, when Moscow announced the withdrawal of its forces from the right bank of the Dnipro River, including the city of Kherson.
Upon the recommendation of Sergei Surovikin, commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered the retreat of all remaining troops to the left bank of the Dnipro.
Maintaining the presence of Russian units on the right bank of the river was "hopeless," Surovikin said in his televised conversation with Shoigu.
"This way, forces, and resources will be freed up for new activities, including offensive operations, in different directions," he said, justifying Russia's retreat.
According to an on-the-ground report, Ukrainian forces have already entered several settlements on the way to Kherson on Nov. 9, including the strategic town of Snihurivka, Mykolaiv Oblast.
Kherson, with a pre-war population of 290,000, was occupied on March 2, and is the only Ukrainian regional capital captured by Russia since the launch of its full-scale invasion in February.
Kherson Oblast was among the four Ukrainian regions Russia said it had annexed on Sept. 30.
The possible loss of Kherson is a major blow to Russian war aims in Ukraine.
Little information is currently available about the progress of the Russian retreat, and the extent to which it was completed before Shoigu's announcement was made.
Neither the Ukrainian General Staff nor any other representative of the military has given an official response to Russia's announcement. In its regular evening briefing, the General Staff reported on developments in other areas of the war but omitted any details about the Kherson front.
In the first official response from the Ukrainian side, Mykhailo Podoliak, advisor to the Office of the President of Ukraine, urged caution in taking Russia's words at face value.
"Until the Ukrainian flag is flying over Kherson, it makes no sense to talk about a Russian withdrawal," Podolyak told Reuters.
The announcement comes after months of anticipation of a Russian retreat from Kherson and the surrounding areas. Ukraine initially announced its counteroffensive to retake the city back on Aug. 29.
Although large areas further north were liberated in early October, Ukraine's counteroffensive had failed to make significant territorial gains in the area near the city.
Though Russia was understood to have heavily fortified and reinforced the occupied right bank of the Dnipro, the Ukrainian army has had a significant logistical advantage in the area, having damaged the only two bridges across the river with a series of precision rocket strikes starting in July.
Signs of Russia's intention to withdraw from Kherson began to appear in the first days of November when Russian flags started disappearing from key administration buildings in the city.
Residents also reported checkpoints in Kherson being abandoned by Russian troops.
Early in November, occupying forces also began removing statues of Russian military figures, as well as the remains of Russian imperial general Grigorii Potemkin from Kherson's St Catherine's Cathedral.
These moves were just the tip of the iceberg of a wave of reported looting of valuable items from the city, from artworks in galleries to electronic equipment in hospitals and schools.
Despite this news, Ukrainian units deployed on the front line between Kherson and Mykolaiv expected a difficult fight to retake the occupied right bank.
Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine's Intelligence Directorate, had earlier in October called the signals of withdrawal "an information operation and manipulation in many aspects."
Details from the ground about the Ukrainian advance remain scarce as Ukrainian officials have urged maximum secrecy.
Nonetheless, Ukrainian forces reportedly entered several settlements on the way to Kherson, including the town of Snihurivka.
Early in the afternoon, photographs, soon confirmed by geolocation, were posted on local Snihurivka Telegram channels of a Ukrainian flag raised on a telecommunications tower near the town's train station.
Around the same time, a selfie was posted to social media of a Ukrainian soldier in front of a destroyed bridge, quickly geolocated to being outside the village of Kalynivske in Kherson Oblast, just 15 kilometers from Snihurivka.
Throughout the day, dozens of photographs began to emerge on social media of more bridges being destroyed throughout the occupied areas on the right bank of the Dnipro, including just outside Snihurivka.
Speaking anonymously to the Kyiv Independent, a Ukrainian officer posted near Snihurivka confirmed that Ukrainian forces had entered the town and are continuing to advance.
Note from the author:
Hi, I'm Francis Farrell, who wrote this piece on a day which heralded another historic victory for the Ukrainian army, though the road to the liberation of Kherson remains fraught with danger. Liberating Kherson means more shelling, more torture chambers, more mass graves, and we will be there on the ground as soon as possible to keep our readers updated. Please consider continuing to support our reporting.