Hope and chaos as Kherson adjusts to a new life after leaving Russia

Hope and chaos as Kherson adjusts to a new life after leaving Russia


After eight months of occupation, residents of Kherson were slowly adjusting to their new life away from the Russian army as many braced for a harsh, uncertain winter.

After the city’s electricity and water supplies were cut after the retreating Russians destroyed key utilities, residents quickly went to stockpile basic supplies in the southern Ukrainian city.

In the city’s main Svoboda square, where just days earlier residents had gathered to celebrate Russia’s defeat at the hands of the Ukrainian military, residents now lined up, waiting to collect SIM cards, pensions and pieces of humanitarian aid , which seeped into Kherson.

The earlier waves of euphoria sometimes gave way to frustration as residents of all ages elbowed themselves in the front of surging crowds desperately searching for donated food and winter clothing, with matches hooted and shoved as volunteers threw supplies into the crowds.

At an ad hoc disruption site, volunteers tried to keep a crowd of hundreds who waited for hours in the freezing rain from descending into chaos by compiling a waiting list of more than 600 names.

“There was a catastrophic mess here yesterday,” said Maksym, 27, a railroad worker who volunteered at the distribution center and was also listed as the 235th person in line on Thursday.

“First come, first served…some of them aren’t happy with that.”

Here the crowd collected sleeping bags, batteries and diapers from a local aid organization working with the UN.

As the crowd waited for a shipment of blankets and solar-powered lamps to arrive, few seemed to notice the outgoing artillery shells as the tremors of the blasts echoed through the city streets.

“This is the first time we’ve received help,” said 62-year-old resident Tatiana Bozhko. “We are happy. We know someone is thinking of us.”

Other scenes were more chaotic as people rushed to vans to distribute aid and residents scrambled to collect basic supplies like cooking oil, pasta and an assortment of canned goods from the backs of the vehicles.

“This brings shame to the city of Kherson,” one resident shouted to a noisy crowd calling for donations in kind in the city’s Svoboda Square during an AFP trip to the city.

But despite the desperate rush for supplies, others embraced their newfound freedom just days after the Russian pullout, and many took to the streets draped in the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.

Others were delighted that the Russians had left and that the city was still mostly intact after Ukrainian forces constantly targeted their supply lines and troops.

“I live right next to a police academy that was home to the Russians that was hit by HIMARS. I only had two cracks in one of my windows,” boasted Artem Zeytullayev, 37, referring to the precision artillery supplied by the United States.

But for Bozhko, the relentless strikes on the nearby Antonivskyi Bridge were appalling, even if they felt they were necessary.

“These actions were inevitable to bring peace to the area,” said Bozhko, whose father helped build the bridge decades ago. “I was really scared.”

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