Fear of Russian retaliation in Kherson

Fear of Russian retaliation in Kherson


The Ukrainian welder reflected on life after death while whispering marriage vows to the nurse with whom he had three children in newly liberated Kherson.

Andriy Krivov prepared for Russia’s retaliation after withdrawing from the city, where it underpinned its campaign along the entire southern front of Ukraine.

The thunder of Ukrainian artillery echoed in the empty cathedral as the meekly dressed couple bowed to the Orthodox priest.

The retreating Russians fired volleys from the east bank of the Dnipro River, which ran down the slope by the singing church choir.

The missiles kicked up dust over the ruined roads and mined fields surrounding the city that Russia held from the start of the war until last week.

Krivov was quite sure that soon they would begin to meet Kherson themselves.

“We could die tomorrow,” said the 49-year-old after finally marrying the woman he’s spent most of his life with.

“Kherson is now part of the front. And when they start bombing, we want to stand before God as husband and wife.”

– Retreat and Retaliation –

Russia’s retreat from the city it intended to make its central base in occupied southern Ukraine has reshaped the nearly nine-month war.

Cherson’s importance to the Kremlin – both because of its connection to Russia’s annexed Crimea and to the Ukrainian port of Odessa to the west – saved it from destruction.

His carefully orchestrated recapture in the third month of the broader Kyiv counterattack thwarted President Vladimir Putin’s plans to seize the entire south coast of Ukraine.

Kherson is now in the crossfire of a Ukrainian push into the eastern parts of its namesake region – and possibly even Crimea itself.

The danger will remain because most think Ukraine wants to strike before the Russians have a chance to regroup.

“Russia benefits more from a pause, which gives Ukraine an incentive to continue,” said Rob Lee of the US Foreign Police Research Institute.

Western officials say Russia has still managed to withdraw most of its forces and establish defense lines on the east bank of the Dnieper.

Fear of Russia’s retaliation against a city it no longer has any strategic incentive to save played in the welder’s mind on the way to the church.

“There’s a very good chance they’ll start bombing us now,” he said while holding Sister Natalia’s hand.

– Two different fronts –

Lydia Belova was ready to suffer.

The 81-year-old former poultry farmer patiently waited her turn to fill plastic jugs from a hose to a local spring.

The Russians cut off power to Cherson and destroyed most of its infrastructure on their way out.

Belova spent eight and a half months watching Russian soldiers looting shops and hunting down those who opposed their rule.

She figured the hardship was worth the price of pushing the Russians back a little further.

“Freedom is always more important,” she said.

“Water is not a big deal. We can stand in line. But Ukraine – we have to defend it.”

This determination underscores the main difference between Ukraine’s southern front and the fighting in the east.

Neither Kherson nor the neighboring region of Zaporizhia was under Russian control before the war.

But Russia imposed indirect rule over parts of eastern Lugansk and Donetsk during an uprising its proxies launched in 2014.

The Putin opponents there – many of them younger native speakers of Ukraine – had eight years to move further west.

The predominantly Ukrainian-speaking south faces Putin’s troops for the first time.

– ‘Army of Thieves’ –

The director of the Kherson hospital, Iryna Starodumova, watched as the invasion exposed fundamental rifts between her staff.

The exhausted doctor lost half her staff before the Kremlin’s annexation of all four battle-torn regions in late September.

Some of those who stayed after the borders were effectively sealed off appeared to accept Russian rule.

“I never suspected in my 42 years here that I was working with people whose views differed from those we all thought we shared,” she said.

“The (pro-Russians) came in, did their job and took their views home,” she said during one of her rare breaks.

“We tried to be tolerant.”

The church pastor was less forgiving.

Protodeacon Andriy’s Kherson Cathedral housed the remains of Grigory Potemkin – a fabled commander under Catherine the Great.

His name is now widely associated with fake villages built to please the tsarina during a tour of her new possessions along the Dnipro.

But Kherson honored Potemkin as a founding father, and the pastor took pride in overseeing his remains in the crypt.

“The Russians came with their weapons and took him away about two weeks ago,” the pastor said after the wedding.

“We had two world wars, the Nazis and the godless communists, and nobody touched him,” he fumed.

The Russians also evacuated the commander’s monument and other artifacts in Kherson.

“I guess they wanted to take their legacy home,” the pastor said.

“But it just goes to show they’re nothing but an army of thieves.”

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