“A car passes with a loudspeaker telling us to leave Kherson. We stay’ | world news

MLess than eight months after the capture of Kherson by Russian soldiers, the city is heavy and dark. Everything is frozen, hidden. After 3 p.m., there is no longer anyone in the streets. In the morning, they go out to do their shopping and then stay at home.

Kherson is stolen by the Russians. Everything is removed: the monuments of Suvorov, Uchakov, Potemkin and Margelov have been removed from their plinths; barges, fire engines, ambulances and office chairs. They enter the apartments. Even the windows of the town hall have been removed. A total organized looting of the city is underway. Cars transport the loot to the river and from there they are transported by boats to the left bank.

A car with a loudspeaker drives through the city to encourage residents to leave and text messages are sent during the night. But, like me, many of my friends stayed. We buy food and store water. We do not believe in forced evacuation. People are said to be taken to remote parts of Russia – but these are just rumours.

There is practically no internet in Kherson. Communication disappeared and even Russian TV channels stopped broadcasting. That’s why there are so many rumours. We hear Ukraine’s artillery duel with Russia and we expect liberation.

I’m used to living like this. I feel like a philosopher.

In some respects, living conditions are normal. There is water and electricity, the heating works, the garbage is taken out. There is food, but food prices are rising every day. Some stores and hospitals are closed. Although the medical equipment has been removed, I read on Facebook that the doctors of the first maternity hospital in the city are giving birth. Somewhere they found an old gynecological chair, tools and medicine, and they are working. In war too, children are born. Three pharmacies remained in Kherson. The others were evacuated. I don’t need medicine. I don’t complain about my health.

For a few months I have been preparing food for the winter. From time to time, I meet work colleagues, acquaintances. If there is internet, I notify the employees. Sometimes I go to dacha. I read – mostly fiction and memoirs – and improve my cooking skills. Last Thursday, I met a colleague and went to the grocery store. While I was cooking, I was talking with relatives. In the evening, I read for two or three hours. Last week I made 11 liters of grape juice with grapes I picked at dacha. It took over six hours. In the busy city, the days pass slowly and monotonously. You have to find something to do.

A nurse inspects a damaged medical center near the front line outside Kherson yesterday. Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/EPA

I don’t feel safe. Russian soldiers can stop you in the street and detain you. They can break into your apartment, search it and take anything. My apartment has already been searched and we have been detained at dacha, which is near the Antonovsky railway bridge. They thought we were shooters. They beat me and threw me in jail. They took away my travel gear – backpacks, tent, money, phone and laptop – but nothing incriminating was found and they released me the next day under house arrest. Now the city is in chaos. I will go to dacha again, to help my friend move to the right bank. All who live in the dachas were ordered to leave by the end of the week.

Those who wanted to leave Kherson and could, left. But we had no humanitarian corridors and were not organizing evacuations to Ukrainian territory. Leaving was either very expensive or you needed your own car. Those who could not afford to leave remained in Kherson.

All my pro-Ukrainian acquaintances ignored the “evacuation” from Russia, which was mainly used by the collaborators and their families, and those who were frightened by their false claims that Ukraine would blow up the hydroelectric plant in Kakhovka and would attack Kherson. It is a journey into the unknown.

I believe that “evacuation” is a voluntary deportation of the population. Blackmail and intimidation of people are used. People were transported by boats across the Dnieper, then they were transported by bus. We don’t know where these people are. There are various rumours.

I don’t hide. I live in my apartment. I’m not alone. My cat, Hunter, lives with me. There is a family Telegram conversation where every morning there is a roll call – they write to me from Kyiv, Chernivtsi, Bucharest. If there’s a connection, I talk to them.

We know what’s going on with everyone.

A Ukrainian woman and her family in their car yesterday after successfully fleeing Kherson under Russian occupation.
A Ukrainian woman and her family yesterday after managing to flee by car from Kherson under Russian occupation. Photograph: Bülent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

There are few civilians left in Kherson now. I think 25% to 30%. I live in a multi-storey building with 260 apartments. In the evening, no more than 20 windows are lit. Before the war, about 350,000 people lived in Kherson.

Soon I think the right bank of the country will be liberated and Ukraine will win. I prepare to fight. I stocked up on food and water, prepared the gas burner and decided on a spare place to live. I also stocked up on food from Hunter. It’s very hard to wait but I believe in liberation. I think it will happen this month.

Life has changed dramatically since the Russian invasion. For the residents of occupied Kherson, the main thing now is to survive. I think about what will happen after the war.

When the occupation is over, I dream of seeing all my relatives and friends again and returning to a peaceful life. I want to work, relax, travel. Faith in the imminent liberation of the city sustains me.

We want to start a family farming business and I will definitely go to the Camino de Santiago with my wife. Maybe someone else will join us too. We planned to do it in 2020. But the pandemic came, then the war. In the 21st century, only bloodthirsty savages can do that. They have no place in the civilized world.

As told to Kseniia Kelieberda and Miranda Bryant

Comments are closed.