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Power outages, curfews and mortar fire from across the Dnipro are straining the city’s patience – and some are leaving for safer places

At the Kherson train station, the Korzh family – Natalia, 72, Veronika, 5, Nikita, 15, and Oksana, 39 – is evacuating as the city, freed from Russian occupation, continues to face regular artillery barrages. Photography by Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

It was three weeks after the Ukrainian army liberated their city from Russian occupation that the Korzh family decided it was no longer safe to stay in Kherson.

“We’re leaving because it is unbearable for her to listen to those sounds any longer,” said 39-year-old Oksana Korzh, pointing at her five-year-old daughter, Veronika, as artillery cannonaded in the distance.

Kherson is the only regional capital that Russia had managed to conquer since the start of its full-scale invasion in February. President Vladimir Putin claims the entire region as Russian territory, and he annexed it along with three others in a September speech. But extensive offensive operations, including constant long-range attacks using HIMARS missiles donated by the United States, forced the Russians to move back its personnel to the east bank of the Dnipro River. The city was retaken by Ukrainian troops on Nov. 11, however scorched neighbourhoods and villages surrounding the capital, destroyed infrastructure and grim life under fire – as a cold winter sets in – remains the reality for residents.

A woman in Kherson lines up for blood-pressure medication.

When Kherson was first liberated, the central Freedom Square became a gathering point for people expressing their joy at the return of the Ukrainian army. Today, residents head there to receive basic services at rubber rescue tents, which the government defiantly calls “points of invincibility.” People go for the warmth and electricity they don’t get at their homes, as well as free medications.

Along the streets, landmarks are missing. As payback, the retreating Russians took monuments of prominent Czarist-era figures such as Admiral Fyodor Ushakov and Grigory Potemkin. The art museum says it lost at least 80 per cent of its collection, which included some local pieces from the 19th century.

“There were art professionals looting here. They knew what they were looking for and they definitely knew how to take the paintings from the frames and transport them,” said Hanna Skrypka, the museum’s head curator.

Hanna Skrypka is head curator of the art museum in Kherson.

City life stops when the sun sets, and curfew is imposed. But Kherson and its inhabitants are never left alone, day or night, as the Russian army continues to shell the city. The attacks are mostly on the districts closest to the river, which are easy targets for mortar fire from the far bank.

Emergency medical services are never relaxed. Paramedics – who have added bulletproof vests and helmets to their gear – speed through empty streets to reach patients who’ve suffered from indiscriminate shelling. Ambulances go extra fast here, rarely using their lights to lower the chances of becoming a target.

One recent evening, Veronika, her older brother, mother, grandmother and dozens of others move along a platform filled with coal smoke in the Kherson train station. The little girl waves a small Ukrainian flag as she boards the overnight train to Kyiv.

Veronika Korzh and her grandmother, Natalia, wait for their train out of Kherson. The station has been busy with people relocating to safety elsewhere.
The night after the Korzhs’ departure, shelling in Kherson sets this house on fire. Ukrainian troops retook this city from the Russians on Nov. 11 after occupying it since March, soon after the war broke out.
An EMS worker treats Svitlana Parysheva, for light injuries during the shelling. Ms. Parysheva’s house was also damaged.
A woman with a sign reading ‘help to survive’ begs for support in Kherson. Residents have been struggling for basic services; many still lack power after the departing Russians destroyed the electrical grid.
At the airport, the Russian base of operations during the occupation, flowers bloom in a ruined building; at a destroyed TV broadcast tower, Olha Serheeva, 40, collects wood.
Villages around Kherson, such as Posad-Pokrovske, still bear the scars of fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces. For Kherson, there will be no peace of mind until the war comes to a close.

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