- Yogita Lemay
- BBC News – Kherson
Nika Selivanova, 13, drew a heart shape with both hands as she waved goodbye to her best friend Inna, who was standing in front of a glass partition separating the entrance hall of the Kherson train station from the waiting area.
Moments before this scene, there was another scene of a warm hug in which tears flowed between Nika and Ina. Ina had also cuddled and kissed Asya, a dachshund wrapped in a blanket to keep her warm, and Nika held her in her arms.
The two girls no longer know when they will meet again.
Nika’s family was leaving Kherson, not sure where they would eventually end up. But for now, they were headed to the western city of Khmelnytskyi, hoping to get some help there.
The last few days in Kherson have been too difficult for Nika’s mother, Elena.
“Before,[the Russian forces]used to bomb us seven to 10 times a day, now it’s 70 to 80 times a day. It’s very scary,” said Elena.
She added, “I love Ukraine and my dear city. But we have to go.”
Elena and her three daughters were among more than 400 people who left Kherson 3 days ago, after the Russian bombing of the city increased.
Elena decided to leave by train, in an evacuation facilitated by the Ukrainian government.
Hundreds of people are leaving the city on their own, and a long line of cars has piled up at the checkpoint outside Kherson, with many terrified civilians.
Irina Antonenko, a citizen, burst into tears when we got into her car to talk to her.
Weeping, she said, “We can’t stand it any longer. The bombing is very heavy. We stayed there and thought it would pass and that we would be lucky. But a raid hit the house next to our house, and my father’s house was also bombed.”
She explained that she planned to travel to Kryvyi Rih, a city in central Ukraine, where she has family.
The city of Kherson experienced a state of joy last month. It was occupied by Russian forces on the second day of the invasion, and the city was liberated by Ukrainian forces on 11 November.
But amidst the festivities, and near a place where crowds had gathered to celebrate freedom from Russian control, a mortar attack occurred on Christmas Eve, leaving 11 dead and dozens wounded.
Among the dead were a social enterprise worker, a butcher and a woman selling mobile phone cards, as well as ordinary people working or visiting the city’s central market.
On that day, Kherson was hit by mortar fire 41 times, according to the Ukrainian government.
The Russians firing from the left (eastern) bank of the Dnipro River, to which they withdrew, the waterway became the de facto forward defensive line in southern Ukraine.
Kherson is a strategically important region, often called the Crimean Gate. Many analysts say Russia has now had to go on the defensive here.
It is difficult to understand what Russia wants to achieve from the bombing of Kherson. In addition to the mortars, we also saw the use of incendiary ordnance that dropped fiery sparks on the city, with the aim of setting targets on fire.
It is not clear what the Ukrainian army is doing and whether it is trying to regain control of areas on the left bank of the river.
Here in the city, the constant sounds of mortar attacks are seldom quiet.
It was here that Serhi Berishon, 56, was killed while he was sleeping. His house collapsed on him after being hit by a shell.
The day after his death we met his mother, Tamara, 82, who had come to look for his passport in the rubble. She needed an official document to remove his body from the morgue.
She said crying: “I had a feeling that something was going to happen. Because I spoke to him on the phone and asked him to leave the house. But he did not do so, so what happened. Our lives were destroyed.”
We had barely finished talking to her, and there were more loud explosions.
An elderly mother’s attempt to make a worthy farewell to her son on her own is dangerous, because no part of Kherson is safe.
Survival here, whether on the street or indoors, is a matter of luck.
Viktoria Yareshko, a 39-year-old Red Cross volunteer, was killed by a mortar shell outside the organization’s base in Kherson, a few meters from the safety zone.
Her mother, Lyudmila Berezna, showed us her daughter’s Medal of Honor.
The mother said, “I am very happy because she helped so many people. She was so kind. But the situation is also painful for me. I have to recover and raise her two children. I tell them that they should be proud of their mother because she is a hero.”
Victoria was living in an underground Red Cross shelter with her two children, Alyonushka, 17, and Sasha, 12. The two girls live there until now and feel comfortable and protected among the group of volunteers who have become their families.
Dmitro Rakitsky, a friend of Victoria and a Red Cross volunteer, explains that when someone very close dies, it is difficult. “But if we give up and stop, her death will be in vain. We work to make sure that people live. Everything else is not important to us.”
But he said, “It’s hard to do that knowing your family could be in danger every minute.”
When more bombs go off a few moments later, Dimitro moves up and down trying to contact his wife, the tension evident on his face. He has two children.
“They don’t want to leave. They worry about me and I worry about them. This is how we live,” he said.
“What angers me the most is that they (Russian forces) have always bombed civilian infrastructure. Houses, apartment complexes and water heating rooms. It is impossible to understand the logic behind these attacks,” Dimytro added.
“We have no electricity or water at all,” said Larisa Revtova, a resident. “It comes for a short time sometimes and disappears again because of the bombing. It’s very scary at night. However, we still have gas, and we can keep the heating on.” .
Tens of thousands of civilians still live in Kherson, but the regional administration has urged them to leave at least twice this week.
It’s a city plagued by random, non-stop attacks.