Ukrainians flee grim life in Russian occupied Kherson

Volodymyr Zhdanov reached his breaking point during the early hours of one morning when rocket fire directed at Ukrainian soldiers struck close to his home in the city of Kherson, terrified one of his two children.

His daughter, age 8, “went in terror to the basement. “It was two in the morning and (she) was terribly afraid,” recalled Zhdanov, who later left the Black Sea city and has spent the last three weeks residing in Kyiv, the nation’s capital.

The first city to fall following Russia’s invasion on February 24 was Kherson, which is situated to the north of the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014. The port continues to be at the centre of the conflict and Ukraine’s fight to maintain its essential seaport. Kherson is a crucial location for Russia along the land route connecting its border with the peninsula.

Zhdanov and others who risked their lives to flee the area characterise the increasingly hopeless conditions there as part of Russia’s draconian endeavour to impose long-term control.

The city, which had a prewar population of roughly 300,000, has largely deserted its streets. There are reports of armed opposition activities and the sudden disappearance of government representatives who defy Russian authority.

Markets are patrolled by occupation forces to deter people from using the hryvnia, the currency of Ukraine, for transactions. Local and regional governments, as well as the police force, now have pro-Moscow personnel in place. There is pressure on staff at various municipal services to work with Russian managers.

Most schools have been shut down. Uneven distribution of necessities has halted the majority of business operations. There are pharmaceutical shortages and increases in the cost of other goods.

Many locals were eager to wait as long as they could for the promised Ukrainian offensive that never came through

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