There were no crowds in the streets of Kherson on Saturday, November 11, to celebrate the first anniversary of the city’s liberation. In the center, a small group of people gathered as if to reenact the jubilation that was expressed there a year earlier, when Ukrainian troops ended eight months of Russian occupation. Thousands of people then took to the streets, brandishing the yellow and blue flag banned by the occupier.
This time, only a few dozen civilians and soldiers found themselves in front of the city administration headquarters, with windows blocked by wooden panels. “But you know,” said Angelina Zubritchuk on the phone, “in Kherson, a few dozen is already a lot. » Despite the liberation, the bombings never stopped on the city. Entrenched on the other side of the great Dnieper River, the Russian army continues to strike this town which had 300,000 inhabitants before the start of the invasion in February 2022, compared to 70,000 today. Military operations continue nearby, with the Kiev army attempting to expand a bridgehead established during the summer on the left bank, which is held by the Russians.
“I hear everything from my house, the artillery and the machine gun fire,” confides Angelina. I don’t remember a day without bombing. » Aged 19, the young woman combines odd jobs and community work with poor families. The security situation has deprived many households of their jobs, and instability is the rule. Angelina herself has changed jobs six times since the liberation. “In May I started a new job at a gas station. A bombing destroyed it before the end of my first day. » Angelina miraculously escaped with bruises. On that day, May 3, Russian strikes killed 24 civilians in Kherson.
A month later, Russia blew up the Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper, 80 kilometers upstream. The floods submerged several areas of the city and even altered the physical geography of the region. At the same time, the Ukrainian army launched its counter-offensive in the neighboring region of Zaporizhia, raising hopes of a reconquest of the left bank. Alas, the Ukrainian army, in five months of bloody fighting, has not managed to break through the front, much less to remove the danger from Kherson. Since September, air strikes have increased on the city.
“The Russians celebrated the anniversary of the liberation in their own way: by bombing us,” squeaks Pavel Tchepeliouk, a local activist. The strikes on November 11 killed a civilian and caused a power outage. Quickly repaired, it augurs difficult months ahead. Everyone here fears that Russia, like last winter, will once again systematically target energy infrastructure.
The NGOs of Pavel Tchepeliouk and Angelina Zoubritchouk are working to stock up on candles, warm clothing, radiators, external batteries and generators. “We are much better prepared than last year,” assures Oleksandr Tolokonnikov, spokesperson for the local administration. Fearing winter, however, some are already starting to leave the city.