Russian War Report: Ukrainians celebrate in Kherson as Russia evacuates the city

As Russia continues its assault on Ukraine, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) is keeping a close eye on Russia’s movements across the military, cyber, and information domains. With more than seven years of experience monitoring the situation in Ukraine—as well as Russia’s use of propaganda and disinformation to undermine the United States, NATO, and the European Union—the DFRLab’s global team presents the latest installment of the Russian War Report. 

Security

Ukrainians celebrate as Russia evacuates Kherson

Tracking narratives

Pro-Kremlin media amplify false story about NATO donating HIV-infected blood to Ukraine

Telegram post decries lack of communications between Russian soldiers and their families

International response

Ukraine claims more Iranian drone shipments as new reports of Syrian fighters surface

Ukrainians celebrate as Russia evacuates Kherson

Footage across social media confirmed for the first time that Russia had abandoned the city of Kherson and were withdrawing southeast across the Dnipro River. In photos and video shared on Telegram, Twitter, and elsewhere, Ukrainians could be seen in the center of the city waving Ukrainian flags and celebrating the Russian withdrawal. 

Russia’s abandonment of the city began earlier this week when General Sergei Surovikin, appointed last month to take charge of Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine, proposed a pullout from Kherson, which would effectively give up a strategic city north of annexed Crimea and the only Ukrainian provincial capital Russia had captured since the February 24 invasion. Surovikin proposed to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that Russia adopt new defensive lines. On November 9, Shoigu ordered troops to withdraw. While the overall status of the withdrawal remains in flux, today’s footage shows Russia is no longer in control of the central parts of Kherson. 

Additionally, footage surfaced on November 9 showing the destruction of the Daryivskyi bridge in Kherson oblast, which would cut off Russian communications between Kherson and Nova Kakhovka. Subsequently, Telegram sources and Ukrainian media reported on the destruction of the Tyaginsky and Novovasilyevsky bridges, also in Kherson oblast. Ukrainian sources and Russian channels claimed the Russian army blew up the bridges in an attempt to slow down any Ukrainian offensive. The Daryivskyi bridge is behind Russian forces, so its destruction could be a signal for heavy entrenchment and preparation for defense.  In the meantime, the Ukrainian army took over Snihurivka in Mykolaiv oblast and Kalynivske in Kherson oblast.

Russia is making serious efforts to prepare defenses behind the current front lines in southeastern and southern Ukraine to prevent any rapid Ukrainian advance in the event of a breakthrough. Most recently, the Russian army began installing defensive structures around the villages of Nikolske and Staryi Krym, near Mariupol. Work is also reportedly under way on fortifications in the occupied areas of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts.

Ruslan Trad, Resident Fellow for Security Research, Sofia, Bulgaria

Pro-Kremlin media amplify false story about NATO donating HIV-infected blood to Ukraine

On November 3, Mash, a popular pro-Kremlin Telegram channel, published a screenshot of a document allegedly retrieved from “the internal data system of the Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal’s office,” according to Kombatant Hack Group. The document was an alleged letter from Ukraine’s Ministry of Health to Ukraine’s prime minister that talked about Ukraine receiving 62,000 liters of blood from “NATO member states.” The letter alleged that the received blood was contaminated with HIV, as well as hepatitis C and B. This threatens the country with an epidemic of deadly diseases,” Mash asserted.

This, however, was false. Detektor Media, a Ukrainian fact-checking site, debunked the letter. “The letter does not meet the requirements for official documents in Ukraine,” it concluded, adding, “Ukraine has never turned to foreign partners for donor blood or its components, according to the Ministry of Health.” 

The DFRLab has previously come across cases of forged letters being published on one-off fringe social media accounts and then picked up and amplified by other accounts to spread controversies about Western interests and unity.

Mash’s post was amplified by prominent Kremlin-approved media outlets like Lenta.ru, RIA FAN, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Rambler, Argumenty I Fakty, Life.ru, News Front, and others. It was also amplified in English via a YouTube video that garnered just 232 views, and an anonymous Twitter account named @Constanze2022 that garnered 355 retweets, 103 quote tweets and 1,019 likes for a post containing the forged letter.

Nika Aleksejeva, Lead Researcher, Riga, Latvia

Telegram post decries lack of communications between Russian soldiers and their families

A popular Russian military blogger on Telegram reported that relatives of Russian soldiers are asking about their loved ones sent to the Ukrainian front in the area of Svatove, Kreminna, and Makiivka, as they have not heard from them for some time. In a post that garnered nearly 300,000 views, journalist Anastasia Kashevarova wrote: 

Hundreds of letters come with full names given by fighters from their relatives. The fighters, many of whom are mobilized, do not get in touch. Whether they are dead or simply without communication, it is necessary to check. They must be sought. 

Those who got in touch say that many were lost. Groups are abandoned without communication, without the necessary weapons, without medicines, naturally without artillery. No one knows who is on their right, who is on the left, who is in the rear. Enemy drones are constantly circling above them, you have to change positions very often. Constant artillery fire from the enemy, ours also begin to shoot and the men find themselves under crossfire.

A response to Kashevarova’s post on the WarGonzo Telegram channel speculated that the problem lies in the lack of prepared personnel due to recent changes in commanding officers in the Central Military District.

Ruslan Trad, Resident Fellow for Security Research, Sofia, Bulgaria

Ukraine claims more Iranian drone shipments as new reports of Syrian fighters surface

Ukrainian military intelligence reportedly found information that Iranian drones were delivered to Russia after February 24, which would refute a statement from the Iranian Foreign Ministry that Tehran only provided a small number of drones months before Russia’s invasion. These claims have not been confirmed. According to the report, the Iranian Mohajer drone is assembled from parts produced in different countries. On November 9, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev visited Iran and met President Ebrahim Raisi, reportedly to discuss security cooperation.  

Iran is not the only Middle Eastern country helping Russian efforts in Ukraine. According to an investigation by Middle East Eye, Russia has deployed over 500 Syrian fighters to Ukraine in mostly non-combat roles. They have the main task of guarding facilities in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Middle East Eye cited regional intelligence sources in the Middle East, including a Syrian regime official. According to the report, Syrians might be serving under the Russian military contractor Shield, as well as Wagner’s far-right Rusich battalion. 

Ruslan Trad, Resident Fellow for Security Research, Sofia, Bulgaria

Related Experts: Ruslan Trad and Nika Aleksejeva