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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Protocols from Ukraine: Faith in an end to the horror

Kherson was liberated from Russian occupation a year ago. Two locals report on their experiences and hopes.

A person walks past a wall of sandbags.

Occupied by Russia for nine months: a passer-by on a street in Kherson Photo: Efrem Lukatsky/ap

The southern Ukrainian city of Kherson had almost 290,000 inhabitants until the start of Russia’s war of aggression. At the beginning of March 2022, Kherson was occupied by Russian troops and subsequently the entire area of ​​the same name. The occupation of the city of Kherson lasted nine months.

During this period, residents repeatedly took part in peaceful pro-Ukrainian rallies and activists were arrested by Russian occupation authorities. In October 2022 there were the first media reports about the liberation of villages on the right bank of the Dnipro in the Kherson region.

On November 11, 2022, Ukrainian forces liberated Kherson. Since then, the city (now estimated to have 140,000 inhabitants) has been subjected to constant artillery attacks from Russian troops. These are located on the left side of the Dnipro, around 10 kilometers from the city of Kherson. The taz spoke to two residents about their experiences.

Like in a big family
Viktor Totsky, 37 years old, Kherson

Viktor Totsky has been heading the association of apartment building owners in the Korabel district for six years. He lived in Kherson under Russian occupation for two months. He was then forced to leave the country. The Russian military threatened and persecuted him. Wiktor is currently living in Kherson again and is traveling through Ukraine to organize help for the residents of his city.

“At first glance, life in Kherson is like it was before the war: there are cars and public transport too. There are a lot of police and military. However, we live at the same time under daily fire and there are victims. According to the local authorities, only up to 20 percent of the residents in the multi-story houses remain. But as we became fewer, we grew together like one big family. In every house everyone knows everyone.

A lot of people left… and that’s a good thing. I even advise many people to leave. For example, to Mykolaiv (67 kilometers from Kherson). It is no longer as dangerous there as in Kherson and the rent for an apartment is no longer as high. That is, I advise people to think about themselves first, at least until March-April, the time of the heating season. They should leave Kherson to feel what it’s like to live in a safe city again.

Viktor Totsky is kneeling and has his left arm wrapped around a brown dog.

Viktor Totsky Photo: private

As for the heating season – well, we don’t think that heating can be done in the entire city, especially not in the Korabel microdistrict. There was no heating there at all last year. Electric heaters were provided to people, although there was no electricity until around January. Everyone got through it as best they could. They heated water with gas, which was and is available.

People now hope for electricity. The heating is in terrible condition, pipes and boiler houses have been destroyed. But our authorities have said that 95 percent of Kherson’s heating systems have reportedly been repaired.

However, according to experts, it is not advisable to turn on the heating in practically empty houses. On the anniversary the liberation of Kherson from Russian occupation (November 11th) I was in the holiday spirit. We will definitely celebrate this day, and I am sure that thanks to the Armed Forces of Ukraine we will do so together with the residents of the left bank of the Dnipro, who are now suffering greatly from the occupation.

No celebrations or gatherings are currently permitted. We recently had a case where the residents and I were waiting near the house for volunteers to arrive. They were late and more than 20 people had already gathered. Then the artillery shelling began and we quickly ran to the entrance to our house. Miraculously none of the volunteers and residents were injured, but it was pretty scary.

I think that the Russian occupiers record crowds with drones or similar technical means and do not care that they are civilians. They just start shooting.

Every day we hear and see our armed forces responding to every Russian fire with attacks, and these sounds are pleasant to hear. We hope every time we hear Ukrainian artillery that the liberation of the Left Bank is somehow getting closer. But we feel that this is slowly happening. We really hope that Kherson will no longer have to suffer from shelling, that it will be like it is now in Mykolaiv. May this horror end as quickly as possible. We haven’t lost faith in it.”

Impact in the neighboring street
Alyona Movchan, 26 years old, Kherson

Alyona Movchan works in the literary department of the Kherson Theater. She organized public readings in Kherson until the start of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. She has published a collection of her poems. She spent eight months under Russian occupation in Kherson. She is married and her husband works for the fire department. They both have a son aged one year and nine months.

Alyona Movchan, wearing a Ukrainian-colored tie, stands at a microphone and gestures while reading a poem.

Alyona Movchan Photo: private

“Before the liberation of Kherson, I lived with a certain level of expectation. When Kherson was liberated, I felt confident. Now I am still waiting for the liberation of the entire Kherson region. I work in Kherson, but live partly in Mykolaiv because I have a small child. And for a while my son tolerated everything normally: all the loud noises, explosions. But when a trolleybus was attacked in March, it was the first time he responded because we were traveling nearby at the time. For me that was already a signal.

Kherson cannot calm down. You wake up in the morning and have to take the bus to work very carefully. If you’re walking – it’s obviously better not to walk – this should be a safe area. For example, I was recently walking down the street where the theater is located on my way to work when a rocket hit the street next door. In the truest sense of the word, it’s only a few meters. That is, the people of Kherson live in constant threat to their lives. Afterwards my friends called and asked if I was still alive.

If we talk about social life in the city, then in the past, for example, there were many events on the occasion of a city festival – a writers’ forum, a concert in the theater, the opening of new venues. There was so much that we arrived in the city in the morning and barely managed to see everything until the evening.

It is dangerous in the center of Kherson. Although there are people who live there. For example, a journalist from San Francisco concluded that she felt comfortable there. Some of my friends also live right on the water, next to the central library. People carry on because this is their life. They feel like they should be there.

But rockets can strike at any time and anywhere. For example, there was recently a conference in the theater when I was in Kyiv. The director calls me and says that there was an attack near the theater and all the windows were broken. The next day I arrive and see people on every floor boarding up these broken windows. This is simply incredible. People show their fearlessness. This means that people get used to the circumstances in which they live.

We stayed in the occupied city for eight months. We all then left Kherson because it was necessary to vaccinate the child as planned, and I knew that the first vaccination would cause him problems. If a child is suffering, as a mother I have no right to let him suffer – even though I stayed close to my husband until the last moment. He worked as a firefighter.

The fire department operated under the Ukrainian flag until September 1, 2022. Then it was taken over by the Russians. The Ukrainian firefighters were ordered to go to the Ukrainian-controlled territory and continue their work there. Some stayed, some left. It was each individual’s personal decision.

Another reason we left was the inflated prices. The Russian occupation authorities equated the ruble with the hryvnia. For example, a pack of diapers cost 2,000 hryvnia (around 50 euros).

We are all waiting for the liberation of the left bank of the Dnipro. We live in anticipation. It seems to me that when all the occupied territories are liberated, we can breathe again and try to live. Even though things are difficult in Kherson now, everyone is united and waiting for victory.”

Translated from Russian Barbara Oertel

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