“They shoot anyone who tries to leave.” Ukrainians describe the terror of living under Russian occupation

As the day progressed, Abba said, the clanking of bullets and the thud of explosions began to fade. Around midnight, silence descended on the city.

“And that’s when we knew,” Abba told CNN. “It was very sad.”

Kherson, a key port city on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine, was overrun by Russian forces in the early hours of Wednesday after days of heavy shelling and shelling. The Ukrainian flag was still hoisted over government buildings, and the city’s mayor, Ihor Kolykhaiev, remained in his post.

On Saturday, Kolykhaiev announced that Russian troops were everywhere and that the city of nearly 300,000 people was without electricity or water and was in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

Kolykhaiev said Russian forces had “settled” in the town and showed no signs of leaving.

“We have a lot of people here in need. We have cancer patients. Children who need medicine. These medicines are not getting to them right now,” he told CNN, adding that the Russians wanted send help, but the locals refused. .

Residents of Russian-occupied Kherson describe days of terror confined to their apartments and homes, fearful to go out for even basic necessities – their city is now a dystopian shell of the home they knew and loved.

Checkpoints manned by Russian troops dot the streets of the city, five Kherson residents told CNN in recent phone calls. The roads are almost empty because the inhabitants have either fled the fighting or remain confined for fear of crossing Russian soldiers. Grocery stores have been emptied and medicines are running out, residents and officials said.

Russian troops have surrounded the town and are shooting anyone who tries to leave, according to residents, including a senior local health official whom CNN does not name for security reasons.

“Even if we wanted to evacuate the women and children from here, it’s just impossible. They shoot anyone who tries to leave.”

Andriy Abba, a resident of Kherson

On Thursday, Russian forces fired on two men at a checkpoint after they tried to cross, killing one and seriously injuring the other, the official told CNN.

Russian troops have also banned ambulances from leaving city perimeters to reach villages in the province, according to the official. A woman undergoing a long and dangerous labor on the outskirts of the city had to resort to a panicked video consultation with her doctor because Russian forces blocked a medical team trying to assist with the delivery, the official said.

“After about a day of pleading from the local authorities to the Russians, the mother and the child were allowed to go to the hospital,” the official said. “It was horrible.”

Andriy Abba, who works as a tax lawyer, says he is determined to stay in Kherson regardless of the occupation, as long as the Ukrainian flag flies over government buildings.

“Even if we wanted to evacuate women and children from here, it is simply impossible,” he added. “They shoot anyone who tries to leave.”

The Ukrainian authorities have worked to establish the safe exit of civilians from the besieged areas as part of ongoing negotiations with Moscow. Russia agreed to halt the fire on Saturday from 9 a.m. Kyiv time and create humanitarian corridors allowing residents to flee the southern cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha, the first tangible sign of cooperation.
But the deal quickly fell apart, stalling evacuations, Ukrainian officials said. The government has accused Russian forces of shelling towns and even targeting evacuation corridors leading out of them.
“Encircled cities that are destroyed” “are living through the worst days,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement on Saturday.

“Humanitarian corridors must work today. Mariupol and Volnovakha. To save people. Women, children, the elderly. To give food and medicine to those who remain.”

Yulia Alekseeva, mother of a two-month-old, said she struggled to find nappies and other baby products. “There are catastrophically few in the city. We also have a grandmother with dementia who needs diapers and medication all the time, which is also not available,” she told CNN.

“We are in hiding. There is a curfew in the city, if people go out after eight o’clock in the evening, they shoot to kill.”

Yulia Alekseeva, a resident of Kherson

Like most of the townspeople, Alekseeva huddled with her family, leaving her house only to look for necessities.

“We are hiding. There is a curfew in the city, if people go out after eight o’clock in the evening, they shoot to kill. You can move around in the company of no more than two people,” she said. declared.

But she remains defiant, adding: “The Ukrainian flag is still above Kherson, the city has not surrendered to the invaders. The army said not to provoke them and everyone would be alive.

On Saturday, large crowds of protesters took to the busy streets of Kherson, waving Ukrainian flags and coming face to face with Russian forces. Troops appeared to fire live ammunition into the air to disperse the crowd, video on social media showed.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba shared footage of the scenes on Twitter, praising the protesters. “Courageous Kherson inspires Ukraine and the world! Thousands of peaceful Ukrainians protest against Russian occupation in front of armed Russian soldiers. What a spirit,” he wrote on Saturday.

From her apartment in Kherson where she cares for her grandmother, Svetlana Zorina told CNN she would stay in the city “as long as the Ukrainian flag is up and the mayor is Ukrainian”. On Friday, she went to the grocery store to find empty shelves, then headed to her mother’s flat, which is overseas, where she picked up some pasta and rice.

“We here are very afraid of being part of Russia. We don’t want history to repeat itself like with Crimea,” she said, referring to the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula by the Russia in 2014. “We are less afraid of being bombed than of being part of Russia.”

This is something Abba is convinced will not happen in his town. Although he was plagued by fears of Russian annexation, he argued that unlike Crimea, which fell relatively bloodlessly, Kherson put up fierce resistance to occupation.

“The Russians crossed a line several times,” he said. “There cannot be [another] Crimea.”

Tamara Qiblawi wrote and reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Gianluca Mezzofiore wrote and reported from London. Alisha Ebrahimji contributed to this report.


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