In this article, you will get all the information regarding Loss and Liberation: Escape from Kherson under Russian Occupation | News about the war between Russia and Ukraine
dated: 2022-11-19 20:36:15 .
Kyiv, Ukraine – A minibus with 16 Ukrainian civilians, including two children, left a checkpoint manned by Russian soldiers on a hot May afternoon.
The driver took a winding dirt road paved with hundreds of cars that had veered off the shell-damaged asphalt.
The bus left the Russian-occupied part of southern Ukraine’s Zaporizhia region after days and nights of driving and waiting at countless checkpoints.
The soldiers made obscene remarks as they checked IDs, searched bags and phones, and ordered the Ukrainian men in each vehicle to remove their shirts to check for gunshot bruises.
And then the soldiers ordered the drivers to wait for hours.
Valentyna Buhaiova hugs Ukrainian marines in the recaptured village of Kyselivka, outside Kherson, Ukraine, on November 12, 2022. [File: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]
close to freedom
On May 20, a smoldering minibus and its hungry, desperate passengers drove the Ukrainian-controlled side — and freedom — mad.
But as the bus drove away, Russian soldiers opened fire on it – as their brothers in arms have often done across occupied Ukrainian territories, according to officials and survivors.
“I looked at the driver, saw how tight his face was. He pressed the gas and just ran away,” Aljona Korotkova, who fled with her eight-year-old daughter Vera from the neighboring Kherson region, told Al Jazeera.
“We heard explosions behind us. They were shooting at us,” she said in a phone interview from the safety of Marl, the quiet, wooded town in western Germany where she and Vera are based.
Temporarily, they hope.
issue and download
A region the size of Belgium with grassy steppes and fertile farmland criss-crossed by rivers and irrigation canals, Kherson was the only Ukrainian province to be fully occupied by Russia shortly after the February 24 invasion began.
Just before dawn on that cold, gloomy day, Korotkova heard the first explosions.
Hours later, Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers, crossed from annexed Crimea, rolled through their town of Oleshki with earth-shaking thunder.
Framed by sand dunes, farmland and orchids, Oleshki lies on the lower left bank of the Dnieper River, the largest in Ukraine.
On the other side of the water is the capital of the region, also known as Kherson, which became the largest urban center conquered by Russia before the fall of Mariupol.
“Of course we wondered why they came to us so quickly,” said Korotkova.
the occupation begins
Ukrainian leaders and analysts have accused some Kherson officials and intelligence officers of treason, claiming they did not blow up bridges and explosive-strewn roads near Crimea.
“They surrendered on the first day,” Halyna, a Kherson resident who did not give her last name, told Al Jazeera in May.
Within days, the troops used their tanks to smash Ukrainian soldiers and barely armed volunteers defending the 1.4km-long Antonovsky Bridge, the only direct link between the city and the Left Bank.
On March 2, the Russians rushed into the city and began to settle.
“Russia is here forever”, was the mantra repeated by representatives of the Kremlin and the Moscow side.
A Russian soldier stands guard as a family walks along a promenade along the Dnieper River in Kherson, Ukraine, on May 20, 2022. [File: Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA-EFE]
Isolate yourself to survive
Korotkova, her daughter and mother isolated themselves in their house, surrounded by fruit trees and vegetable beds.
The house had a wood-burning stove and a cold, dark basement with glittering jars and a meat freezer.
Fruit, pickles and meat – along with packages from friends – helped Korotkova, who organized exhibitions and worked part-time as a nanny, to survive.
For the first few weeks, Russian soldiers were hardly to be seen in Oleshki, but the city felt the occupation in countless other ways.
Movement was dangerous because Russian soldiers were checking ID cards and cell phones.
Grocery shopping took hours as food, medicine and basic necessities slowly ran out or became prohibitively expensive.
Volunteers who brought drugs and other essential supplies from the Ukrainian side also disappeared – or were kidnapped and never heard from again.
The protest gatherings were initially massive and affected the entire region.
Kherson is the only land bridge to Crimea, and its residents witnessed the exodus of tens of thousands of refugees from the annexed peninsula.
“We understood what happened to Crimea, we didn’t want it,” said Korotkova in Kherson.
But Russian soldiers and rogue Ukrainian police quelled the rallies with smoke bombs, beatings, arrests, kidnappings, torture and extrajudicial killings.
atrocities and destruction
“In the Kherson region, the Russian army left behind as many crimes as in other regions it entered,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on November 14. “We hope to find every killer and bring them to justice.”
Hundreds are believed to have been abducted and tortured in makeshift prisons known as “cellars”, some ending up there simply because they seemed worth a ransom.
“They took the peasants to the base and beat them to pay,” said Korotkova.
The occupiers treated Kherson as a trophy of war, squeezing as much of it as they could – and trying not to leave anything of value behind when they began their retreat earlier this month.
“They destroyed many infrastructure sites – bridges, heat generators, transmission stations, mobile towers,” Kyiv analyst Aleksey Kushch told Al Jazeera.
In addition to washing machines, toilet bowls and electronics, bronze monuments to imperial generals and raccoons were taken from the city zoo.
“Their loot looked like a bandit wagon,” Kushch said.
From the beginning, the “authorities” installed by the Kremlin tried to create the illusion that the majority of Khersonites were pro-Russian.
But no one was close to Korotkova – except for the driver she once met. The man was in his 60s and was nostalgic for his Soviet-era youth, collective farms and cheap sausages, she said.
A 90-year-old woman who moved to St. Petersburg, Russia a few years ago, called her granddaughter in Oleshka and told her how great Russian President Vladimir Putin is.
When her granddaughter told her about the reality of the occupation, her grandmother replied: “You’re making everything up,” said Korotkova.
Living among the dogs of war
In the meantime, the cacophony of war has become part of everyday life.
“I was planting potatoes with the sounds of explosions. I transplanted strawberries onto saplings. You get used to it because you have to keep living,” she said.
Depression exhausted her and Vera because they felt trapped in the house and longed for a simple walk or stargazing.
“Fear exists, but somehow you live. “You don’t stop breathing because of fear,” said Korotkova.
If shots or explosions started while Korotkova was not at home, Vera was ordered to hide in the room with the stove and cover her head.
But the child showed no fear. “She grew up so quickly, became so responsible and serious,” said Korotkova.
They decided to flee in May, even if it meant leaving behind their 69-year-old grandmother, who said she would not survive the multi-day journey.
It took them two attempts and almost a week of driving, waiting and sleeping in luxurious guesthouses or on a bus.
The first minibus driver turned around after a day of waiting and found another.
On the last night on the occupied side, rain and thunder drowned out the noise of artillery duels between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
And when the Russians started shooting at their minibus and the driver ran away, the Ukrainian soldiers just waved at him and showed him to drive on.
Arriving in Ukrainian-controlled territory, the passengers wept with relief – and were received as long-awaited guests.
There was hot food, medical care, showering and shampooing, overnight accommodation and transportation.
After arriving in Kyiv, where Korotkova and Vera spent several weeks and received new foreign passports, they went to Germany.
And although Vera has adapted to the new school, learned German and made friends with other refugee children, they can’t wait to return to Oleshki.
“We really want to go home, but we won’t do that in the near future,” Korotkova said.
The Russians planted mines around the city and destroyed the infrastructure, leaving people without electricity, natural gas and cell phones.
Last week, Ukrainian troops, police and auxiliary forces began pouring into the occupied territories with power generators, fuel, food, medicine – and arrest warrants for collaborators.
But Kherson does not look as devastated and desperate as other areas of northern and eastern Ukraine from which Russian troops have withdrawn.
“It’s not sad like other places I’ve been,” a volunteer who brought insulin to the city told Al Jazeera on Thursday.
Khersonites in the occupied territories are fighting for survival, but hope that liberation is near.
“The prices are inhumanly high, but people wait and believe,” a resident told Al Jazeera.
Loss and Liberation: Escape from Kherson under Russian Occupation | News about the war between Russia and Ukraine
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