The inhabitants of Kherson do not want to think about the problems they will face. Today they want to enjoy their regained freedom.
First, there were problems with electricity in the city–more and more frequently, until there was a complete lack of supply. It was the same with water and communication. Ukrainian telephone networks have not reached here for a long time, and now Russian ones have stopped working. As a result, 33-year-old Andriy, an office worker before the occupation, was cut off from information. Nearly 300,000 people lived in his native Kherson until the February 24 Russian invasion. Many of them fled, but he stayed.
“From the very beginning, the war was bad for the russkies (kacap),” says Andriy today. “I read a lot, so I knew they didn’t accomplish any strategic goal. They did not capture Kyiv, Odessa or Kharkiv, they did not surround the troops in Donbas. So all I had to do was wait.”
Andriy doesn’t refer to Russians other than by the derogatory “kacap“. He lives on the outskirts of Kherson, where it was mostly the elderly who remained. He asked the neighbors why nothing was working in the city, but no one knew the answer. It was also hard to talk to anyone because they all looked scared. Andriy understood. For more than eight months of the occupation, he himself lived in fear. When Russian troops arrived here in early March, he went out to pro-Ukrainian demonstrations. He expected that one day they would come for him and arrest him. The constant fear was almost suffocating.
On Friday, November 11, Andriy decided to take a walk. He saw two cars with Ukrainian flags speeding down the street. Around noon he headed downtown, where he encountered more and more blue and yellow symbolism. Finally, he asked the people with the flags what was going on. “How is it that you don’t know? Kherson has been liberated,” the strangers replied. Since then, a smile from ear to ear has not left Andriy’s face.
A few days earlier, on November 9, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that his army would completely withdraw from the right bank of the Dnieper, including from Kherson, the capital of the oblast. This happened after months of Ukrainian counter-offensive and–as the military involved in the operation admitted in unofficial talks–on the eve of a decisive attack. In September, Russian troops, surprised by the Ukrainian attack, were forced into a chaotic retreat which caused them to suffer heavy losses in men and equipment. Now the Kremlin was trying not to repeat that mistake. A withdrawal from the right-bank part of Kherson oblast was prepared. The Russians left Kherson itself on the night of November 10, and then the first inhabitants began to celebrate. Thus, the city avoided heavy fighting, which meant that it did not share the fate of Mariupol, Severodonetsk, Izium or Bucha.
With a gifted Ukrainian flag, Andriy celebrated in the central Freedom Square. There was a carnival atmosphere, loud music, dancing, hugs. Tears of sadness for what had happened and joy that it was over. Soldiers struggled to make their way across the square, because everyone wanted to hug them, thank them or just high five them.
Soon, other representatives of the Ukrainian state also appeared in the city: police, local authorities and railway employees who wanted to launch a connection in the coming days. The post office opened and the first tons of food products were delivered to supermarkets. In the square, the military and police officers set up Starlink dishes providing satellite internet, thanks to which residents could talk to their loved ones.
Andriy doesn’t want to think about the problems they will face. After all, the Russians are just across the river, the city is within range of their artillery. That’s why the authorities are urging people to evacuate. Andriy pays no attention to that. For now, he has one plan: celebrate.