In a major retreat, Russia on Wednesday announced the withdrawal of its troops from the Ukrainian city of Kherson that it had annexed in September, reported Reuters.

Kherson is the main city of the region of the same name that Russia had occupied along with Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia. On October 19, Russian President Vladimir Putin had declared martial law in these four regions.

On Wednesday, General Sergei Surovikin, the commander of all Russian forces in Ukraine, stated that the situation in the zone was tense as Ukrainian forces kept making attempts to attack its positions, reported Sputnik News.

Following Surovikin’s advise, Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu ordered his troops to withdraw to the left bank of the Dnieper River and set up defences.

“We will save, most importantly, the lives of our servicemen and, in general, the combat capability of the group of troops, which is futile to keep on the right bank in a limited area,” Shoigu said. “In addition, part of the forces and means will be freed up, which will be used for active operations, including offensive in other directions in the zone of the operation.”

The development came as Moscow-installed deputy head of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region Kirill Stremousov was killed in a car crash on Wednesday, reported AFP. Stremousov was one of the highest-raking officials in Ukraine who were supporting Moscow’s offensive.

Russia had launched an invasion of Ukraine on February 24, describing its actions as a “special operation” to demilitarise and “de-Nazify” Ukraine. However, Ukraine and several Western countries said this was a baseless pretext for a war of choice by Putin.