Kherson, Ukraine, resident describes a ghost town of exhausted people, with acute shortages of medicine


A resident of Kherson described the situation in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city as tense, with people “emotionally exhausted”, empty streets in the mid-afternoon and Russian soldiers often seen in civilian clothes.

The woman was contacted by CNN through a third party and spoke shortly before Kherson’s Russian-appointed administration ordered civilians to leave as Ukraine tries to retake the city in its counterattack to Moscow’s invasion.

The administration said on Saturday that “due to the tense situation on the front, the increased danger of massive bombardment of the city and the threat of terrorist attacks, all civilians must immediately leave the city and move to the east bank of the Dnieper!”

Authorities had previously advised people to leave; Saturday’s announcement seems to go beyond that.

Speaking on Friday, the female civilian from the city of Kherson said: “Unfortunately, many residents of Kherson have had to consider leaving the city. Everyone had their own reasons, worries and fears. But I’m 100% sure no one wanted to go.”

CNN is not identifying the woman for security reasons.

She said that Kherson has become a ghost town. Tens of thousands of its residents have left since the Russian occupation began in March.

Citizens of Kherson arrive at the train station in Dzhankoi, Crimea, Friday, October 21, 2022.

“In the evening you can see a large number of tall buildings in which two or three windows are illuminated at most. During the day, you can meet people especially near the market. But at 15-16 the streets are empty and there is no one at all.”

On Saturday, a Ukrainian official, Yuriy Sobolevskyi, claimed on Telegram that the “miserable scum terrorizing Kherson” had ordered all elevators in the city to be shut down.

The woman said she had no plans to leave. “To be honest, this question annoys me… This is my land, Kherson is my home. I took part in rallies against the occupiers from the first days of the war, I fought as much as I could. This fight continues.”

The woman said that in recent days she had not heard of anyone being forced to leave. Some people were still trying to reach Vasylivka in the neighboring Zaporizhia region, the only crossing point between Russian-held and Ukrainian-held territory that is still open.

It is unclear whether this situation will change now following the latest instructions from Russia’s designated authority.

The woman said the atmosphere in the city was tense. “People are emotionally exhausted, some simply do not leave their homes to avoid contact with the military. It is impossible to relax here. In the evening when I hear a car driving by the house, I start to get nervous, because a car at a late hour is not a good sign.”

She insisted that most of those who remained understood that the Ukrainian army “will never harm the population and there will be no bombing of civilians.”

The woman said that while utilities continued to run, people were concerned about adequate power and heating during the winter. “Everybody dreads the coming winter.”

She said there was enough basic food available. “Kherson has generally turned into one spontaneous market, people are selling everything they can. Someone bakes homemade bread, someone bakes cakes, someone simply sells their things in the middle of the street by putting them on a sheet.”

But since the Russians had taken the people’s boats, she wasn’t sure how food supplies from the east bank would be sustained.

The woman said medical supplies and baby formula were in short supply and very expensive. “All that is imported now is medicine from the Russian Federation. Medicines are simply sold on the street from a car or by some privately.”

There were always long lines at pharmacies and things like antibiotics were scarce.

She wasn’t sure if the number of Russian soldiers in the city of Kherson had increased or decreased, but she had noticed a growing contingent of Chechen fighters in the city.

“I can’t say that there are fewer Russian soldiers, they simply took off their military uniforms and changed into civilian clothes. Some walk the street dressed in civilian clothes, but with a machine gun.”

She said she welcomed the sound of the shelling.

“The residents of Kherson are scared into silence. I remember, it was quiet for a few days in the summer and it seemed to everyone that Ukraine had forgotten about us.

“You can constantly hear how the Armed Forces of Ukraine are shelling the positions of the occupiers. You can’t even imagine how happy the locals are about this,” she said.

“Automatic weapons are periodically heard in different parts of the city, but it is not known who is firing.”

Ukrainian forces are still some distance from the city of Kherson, but have made inroads into other parts of the region. Russian forces appear to be dug in and defending their positions as they launch missile attacks against the Ukrainian advance. Russian-appointed local officials insist Moscow’s forces intend to defend the region, while Ukrainian officials say up to 45 Russian battalion battle groups may now be on the west bank of the Dnieper.

But Ukrainian officials say that in some parts of Kherson, such as Beryslav, the occupation authorities have ceased their activities in recent days. “Collaborators who cooperated with the Russian occupiers continue to leave the city with their families and property,” the Ukrainian military said on Friday.

In recent days, the Ukrainians hit a newly erected pontoon under the Antonivskyi bridge, which is located near the city of Kherson. Local authorities said four people were killed.


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