November 26, 2022

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Ukraine's Kherson races to restore energy and water after Russia's withdrawal

Ukraine’s Kherson races to restore energy and water after Russia’s withdrawal

  • The humanitarian situation in Kherson is “extremely difficult” – official
  • Authorities are working to restore vital services
  • Joy mixes with concerns about water and energy for Kherson residents
  • Residents recount the violations committed by the occupation forces
  • Fighting rages in Donetsk and eastern Luhansk regions

Kherson, Ukraine (Reuters) – Public utilities companies in Kherson are working to restore vital infrastructure damaged and mined by desertion from Russian forces, regional officials said on Sunday, with most homes in the southern Ukrainian city still without electricity and water.

To their rejoicing, some of the townspeople recounted the ill-treatment by the Russians during their occupation of Kherson.

The governor of Kherson region, Yaroslav Janusevich, said that the authorities decided to keep the curfew from 5 pm to 8 am and prevent people from leaving or entering the city as a security measure.

“The enemy has destroyed all critical infrastructure targets,” Yanusvich told Ukrainian television. “We are trying to meet in a few days and (afterwards) we open the city,” he said.

Ukrainian forces reached central Kherson on Friday after Russia relinquished the only regional capital it had captured since the invasion began in February. The withdrawal was the third major Russian retreat in the war and the first to involve ceding such a large occupied city in the face of a major Ukrainian counterattack that retaken parts of the east and south.

On Sunday, artillery exchanges reverberated over the city but failed to dampen the crowds of jubilant, flag-waving residents gathered in the face of the cold from gathering in Kherson’s main square. The crowds tried to pick up cellphone signals from Starlink ground stations on Ukrainian military vehicles.

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“We are happy now, but we are all afraid of the bombing from the left bank,” said singer Yana Smirnova, 35, pointing to the Russian guns on the eastern side of the Dnipro River near the city.

Smirnova said that she and her friends had to get water from the river to shower and flush toilets, and only a few residents were lucky enough to have generators pumping water from wells.

Local authorities said most of the city lacked electricity or water. Yury Sobolevsky, first deputy chairman of the Kherson Regional Council, told Ukrainian television that even while the authorities were working to restore critical services, the humanitarian situation remained “extremely difficult”.

“Our sons and daughters”

But some revelers in Kherson’s main square said the problems paled in comparison to the joy of seeing Ukrainian troops enter the city.

“When we saw our army, all the problems with water and electricity were gone,” said Yana Shaposhnikova, 36, a clothing designer. “And the explosions are not so scary. Our boys and girls (soldiers) are here. So it’s not scary.”

Officials reported some early progress in returning life to normal in the city.

Adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, Kirillo Tymoshenko, said on the messaging app Telegram that the mobile phone connection is already working in the city center, while the head of Ukraine’s railways said that train services to Kherson are expected to resume this week.

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Residents said the Russians withdrew gradually over the past two weeks, but that their final departure only became clear when the first Ukrainian forces entered Kherson on Thursday.

“It was a gradual thing,” said Alexei Sandakov, 44, a videographer. “First the special police went. Then the regular police and their management. Then you started to see fewer soldiers in the supermarkets and then their military vehicles moved away.”

Several residents interviewed by Reuters said they tried to reduce contact with Russians and knew of people arrested and mistreated for showing any expression of Ukrainian patriotism.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify these accounts.

Russia has denied violations against civilians or attacks on civilians since the start of the war.

“We had to bury our (Ukrainian) flag underground,” Shaposhnikova, who was wearing a baseball cap for the New York Yankees, said. “If you wear anything yellow and blue (Ukrainian national colors), you may be shot or invited to a basement where you will be tortured.”

She said the Russian police had arrested a friend of hers who was a volunteer providing humanitarian aid to remote areas. Shaposhnikova said they took her to an underground prison and deprived her of sleep for three days while she was interrogated, and demanded to know if she was revealing their positions to the Ukrainian army.

Sandakov said Russian forces had looted the homes of Ukrainian soldiers who had left the city before capturing the city and would search the bodies of young men passing through checkpoints for tattoos of Ukrainian nationalist groups.

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Reuters was not able to independently verify these comments.

Eastern Ukraine

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said it has recaptured 179 settlements and 4,500 square kilometers (1,700 square miles) along the Dnipro River since the start of the week.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported that heavy fighting continued along the Eastern Front in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

In its daily update, the General Staff said that during the past 24 hours, Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks on several settlements in the two regions.

Zelensky attributed Ukraine’s success in Kherson and elsewhere in part to stiff resistance in the Donetsk region despite repeated Russian attacks.

“There is just hell,” he said on Saturday. “There are very fierce battles every day.”

(Covering) By David Ljungrn, Jonathan Landay, Gleb Garanich, and Pavel Politiuk.

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.