A resident of Kherson has described the situation in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city as tense, with people “emotionally exhausted,” the streets empty from mid-afternoon onwards, and Russian soldiers often seen in civilian clothes.
The woman was reached by CNN through a third party, and was speaking shortly before the Russian-appointed administration in Kherson ordered civilians to leave, as Ukraine tries to retake the city in its counterattack to Moscow’s invasion.
The administration said Saturday that “due to the tense situation at the front, the increased danger of massive shelling of the city and the threat of terrorist attacks, all civilians must immediately leave the city and cross to the East bank of the Dnipro!”
Previously the authorities had recommended people leave; Saturday’s announcement appears to go beyond that.
Speaking on Friday, the female civilian in Kherson city said: “Unfortunately, many residents of Kherson had to consider leaving the city. Everyone had their own reasons, worries and fears. But I am 100% sure that no one wanted to go.”
CNN is not identifying the woman for security reasons.
She said Kherson had become a ghost town. Tens of thousands of its residents have left since the Russian occupation began in March.
“In the evening you can see a large number of high-rise buildings in which a maximum of two or three windows are lit. During the day, you can meet people mostly near the market. But at 3-4 p.m. the streets are empty and there is no one at all.”
On Saturday, one Ukrainian official, Yuriy Sobolevskyi, alleged on Telegram that the “miserable scum who terrorize Kherson” had ordered all elevators to be turned off in the city.
The woman said she was not considering leaving. “To be honest, this question infuriates me….This is my land, Kherson is my home. We took part in rallies against the occupiers from the first days of the war, we fought as hard as we could. This struggle is still going on.”
The woman said that over the past few days she had not heard of anyone being forced to leave. Some people were still trying to reach Vasylivka in neighboring Zaporizhia region, the only crossing point between Russian and Ukrainian-held territory that is still open.
It’s unclear whether that situation will now change after the latest instructions from the Russian-appointed authority.
The woman said the atmosphere in the city was tense. “People are emotionally exhausted, some simply do not leave their home to avoid contact with the military. It is impossible to relax here. In the evening when I hear a car driving near the house, I start to get nervous, because a car at a late hour is not a good sign.”
She insisted that most of those left understood that the Ukrainian military “will never harm the population and there will be no shelling of civilians.”
The woman said that while utilities continued to function, people were worried about adequate power and heating during the winter. “Everyone is afraid of the coming winter.”
She said that there was enough basic food available. “Kherson has generally turned into one spontaneous market, people sell what they can. Someone bakes homemade bread, someone bakes cakes, someone sells their stuff simply in the middle of the street by putting it on a sheet.”
But as the Russians had taken people’s boats, she was unsure how food deliveries from the east bank would be sustained.
The woman said medical supplies and baby formula were in short supply and very expensive. “Everything being imported now is medicine from the Russian Federation. Medicines are sold simply on the street from the car or by some people privately.”
There were always long lines at pharmacies and things like antibiotics were in short supply.
She was unsure whether the number of Russian soldiers in Kherson city had increased or decreased but had noticed a growing contingent of Chechen fighters in the city.
“I can’t say that there are less Russian soldiers, they simply took off their military uniforms and put on civilian clothes. Some walk the street wearing civilian clothes but with a machine gun.”
She said she welcomed the sound of shelling.
“Kherson residents are frightened by the silence. I remember, it was quiet for a couple of days in summer, and it seemed to everyone that Ukraine had forgotten about us.
“You can constantly hear how the Armed Forces of Ukraine are shelling the positions of the occupiers. You can’t even imagine how happy the locals are because of it,” she said.
“Periodically automatic weapons are heard in different parts of the city, but it is not known who is having a firefight.”
Ukrainian forces are still some distance from Kherson city but have made inroads in other parts of the region. Russian forces appear to be dug in and defending their positions, while launching missile attacks against the Ukrainian advance. Local Russian-appointed officials insist Moscow’s forces intend to defend the region, while Ukrainian officials say that as many as 45 Russian battalion tactical groups may now be on the west bank of the Dnipro.
But Ukrainian officials say that in some parts of Kherson, such as Beryslav, occupation authorities have ceased their activities in recent days. “Collaborators who cooperated with the Russian occupiers continue to leave the city with their families and property,” the Ukrainian military said Friday.
In the last few days, the Ukrainians have struck a newly erected pontoon beneath the Antonivskyi bridge, which is near Kherson city. Local authorities said four people were killed.