A resident of Kherson described the situation in the Russian-occupied city as tense, with people “emotionally drained”, empty streets from mid-afternoon and Russian soldiers often seen in civilian clothes.
The woman was reached by CNN through a third party and was speaking shortly before the Russian-appointed administration in the city ordered civilians to leave.
The administration said on Saturday that “due to the tense situation at the front, the increased danger of heavy bombardment of the city and the threat of terrorist attacks, all civilians should immediately leave the city and cross to the east bank. Dnipro!”
Previously, authorities had advised people to leave; Saturday’s announcement seems to go beyond that.
Speaking on Friday, Kherson City Civilian Woman said: “Unfortunately, many residents of Kherson 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 had become a ghost town. Tens of thousands of its residents have left since the Russian occupation began in March.
“In the evening you can see a large number of high-rise buildings in which a maximum of two or three windows are illuminated. During the day, you can meet people mainly near the market. But at 3-4 p.m., the streets are empty and there is no one there at all.
On Saturday, a Ukrainian official, Yuriy Sobolevskyi, claimed on Telegram that the “wretched scum who terrorize Kherson” had ordered the closure of all elevators in the city.
The woman said she had no plans to leave. “To be honest, this question makes me furious… This is my land, Kherson is my home. We participated in rallies against the occupiers from the first days of the war, we fought as best we could. This struggle is still ongoing.
The woman said that in the past few days she had not heard of anyone being forced to leave. Some people were still trying to reach Vasylivka in the neighboring region of Zaporizhia, the only open crossing point between Russian and Ukrainian-held territories.
It is not clear whether this situation will now change after the latest instructions from the Russian-appointed authority.
The woman said the atmosphere in the town was tense. “People are emotionally drained, some just don’t leave their homes to avoid contact with the military. It is impossible to relax here. In the evening when I hear a car driving near the house, I start to get upset, 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 shelling of civilians”.
The woman said that although utilities continued to operate, people were worried about adequate food and heating during the winter. “Everyone is afraid of the coming winter.”
She said there was enough basic food available. “Kherson has generally turned into a spontaneous market, people sell what they can. Someone bakes homemade bread, someone bakes cakes, someone sells their stuff just in the middle of the street by putting on a sheet.
But since the Russians had taken people’s boats, she didn’t know how food deliveries from the east bank would be maintained.
The woman said medical supplies and infant formula were in short supply and very expensive. “Everything imported now is medicine from the Russian Federation. Drugs are sold simply on the street from the car or by some people in private.
There were always long queues at pharmacies and things like antibiotics were in short supply.
She did not know whether the number of Russian soldiers in the city of Kherson had increased or decreased, but had noticed a growing contingent of Chechen fighters in the city.
“I can’t say that there are less Russian soldiers, they just took off their military uniforms and put on civilian clothes. Some walk in the street in civilian clothes but with a machine gun.
She said she welcomed the sound of shelling.
“The people of Kherson are frightened by the 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 Ukrainian armed forces shell the positions of the occupiers. You can’t even imagine how happy the locals are because of this,” she said.
“Periodically, automatic weapons are heard in different parts of the city, but it’s unclear who is having a firefight.”
Ukrainian forces are still some distance from the city of Kherson but have made inroads in other parts of the region. Russian forces appear to be entrenched and defending their positions, while launching missile attacks against the Ukrainian advance. Russian-appointed local officials insist Moscow’s forces intend to defend the area, while Ukrainian officials say up to 45 Russian battalion battlegroups could now be on the west bank of the Dnipro.
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 army said on Friday.
In recent days, Ukrainians have hit a newly erected pontoon under the Antonivskyi Bridge, which is near the city of Kherson. Local authorities said four people were killed.
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