‘We pray that Russian soldiers go back to where they came from’

The Kherson diary. Residents of Dnipro River’s east bank, still occupied by Russia, are waiting for arrival of Ukraine’s army

‘We pray that Russian soldiers go back to where they came from’
Illustration: Alisa Krasnikova

The liberation of Kherson on 11 November made many shed a tear. Some were crying happy tears, some — angry ones. Meanwhile, the residents of the Dnipro River east bank were also crying out of envy — they are also dreaming of freedom.

Usually, our diary entries feature the residents of both banks of the Dnipro River, but today, there will only be voices of those who continue to live under occupation. While abandoning the west bank, Russian occupation troops blew up all significant infrastructure objects, including all bridges, even pedestrian ones, electrical substations, a TV tower, and cell towers.

The city of Kherson, located on the west bank of the Dnipro River, has been without power and communication since 9 November. Sometimes, there is some mobile coverage in the city centre, but people have to run around in order to be able to catch it. The best one can hope for is get a couple of seconds in to tell their relatives they’re alive.

While power and communication are being restored in the city of Kherson, everything seems to be working, although with outages here and there, on the east bank of the river, which is still under Russian control. Our protagonists, people who live on the east bank of the Dnipro River, describe another week of existence under occupation.

‘They’re on the lookout for something else to steal’

Victoria, 43. The city of Hola Prystan

Everything is as usual here, if one could say that. Evacuation started in our city and continued down along the river. Mobile phones with Russian SIM-cards regularly get text messages stating the need to evacuate, but we are blissfully ignoring them; for now, no one is trying to kick us out of our homes by force.

Everything’s closed: schools, kindergartens, the administration building, the hospital, pharmacies, shops, and the market. Only bakeries were open.

But just as I expected, people waited for a couple of days and then began to slowly open up their shopping spots, the trade is back on. In the streets, people are selling vegetables out of their cars. People need medicine and food.

There’s no coordination at all between the military and the new civilian “government”.

The civilian [“administration”] closed everything down. Then the military showed up, coming out of the forests or wherever they were hiding to buy some food. They started to run around the city in shock: why is everything closed?

They haven’t even heard about the order of the “authorities”.

Sometimes I look at the soldiers and realise that they themselves are at a loss, they have no idea what’s going on.

Robberies have become more frequent in the city. Russian soldiers steal everything they see. They took office equipment and furniture from the city’s administrative buildings. They stole everything they could from the school too, and the rest they broke. In general, they go around the city on the lookout for something else to steal, I guess, so we try to stay as far away from the invaders as we can.

‘I hope that Ukraine’s Armed Forces won’t bomb our homes’

Pavlo, 76. The city of Hola Prystan

Why am I so unhappy? What’s there to be happy about? The residents of Kherson can have their fun for now, but we’ll see who has the last laugh. TV hasn’t been working for several days, radio too. There’s access to the Ukrainian Internet now, so I use VPN to watch the actual news, like 60 minutes [Russian propaganda show — translator’s note].

I’ve got nothing but trouble because of these Ukraine’s Armed Forces; the administration has left Hola Prystan. To get money, you have to get to [the city of] Skadovsk somehow, which is 60 kilometres away. And you have to find a way to get there, too. Ukraine is paying me a pension, but I can’t pay with my [Ukrainian] card anywhere. So, I’ll be looking for a way to go get a Russian pension.

I won’t be leaving the city for anywhere else, I’m too old now, and my health isn’t as it once was. I hope Ukraine’s Armed Forces won’t bomb all our homes.

‘I don’t wanna die’

Serhiy, 35. The city of Hola Prystan

Everyone in our family is alive, thank God! It’s scary to even imagine what tomorrow could bring. We’re very happy for the residents of Kherson, but the war still isn’t over. In our city, Russians have dug so many trenches that it seems they will be shelling Kherson from here.

And that’s bad news for us: our homes are in their defence line, there may be artillery duels between the river banks.

Everything is okay with my daughter Masha. She’s two months old now, she eats and sleeps, makes all kinds of noises, gurgles.

My wife’s pregnancy was very stressful: constant explosions, fires, tanks in the streets — all of it, unfortunately, had an impact on the baby too.

When we left the maternity home, we were told that we had to get her examined monthly by medical specialists who work in Kherson. But as you can see, that is impossible in current circumstances. Also, the baby has had no vaccines done: there haven’t been any available in the city since the start of the war.

Our clinic and hospital are closed. I’ve heard that Russians had banned doctors from working, so that people would leave the city.

I would consider evacuating with my family, but due to my illness I can’t leave the confines of my yard: the state of my health won’t let me get to some other place. I’ve almost run out of my pills too, the ones I need to stay alive.

My wife and I wrote to different volunteers asking for help getting medicine, but as of now, no one is able to come to our city. I don’t know what to do.

I don’t wanna die, I would like to take care of my family and get to know my children.

A big queue of people looking to buy bread is lining up in front of the bakery, just like in the beginning of the war. My wife sometimes queues up there for a long time. Although we don’t buy a lot, only if there’s a dire need for something. Due to the war, my income has disappeared, and my wife wasn’t able to receive the state child allowance and maternity payments.

‘What will we do with our elderly relatives?’

Irina, 53. The city of Hola Prystan

We had a great day today. My husband, son, and I went to Skadovsk, to receive the Russian pensions for our elderly relatives. The day was great, sunny, and our spirits were high. There were people walking by the sea. I haven’t seen so many people in one place in a long time. There were a lot of both soldiers and civilians.

The cafes are open, we bought an ice cream each — so delicious. We didn’t risk sitting down in the cafe, what if we ended up spending all our money there? We bought the medicine we needed at the pharmacy, although for some reason, it costs twice as much compared to a month ago. But what can you do, we had to buy it.

We’re not planning on leaving. What will we do with our elderly relatives? They won’t survive a long journey. But still, I packed a bag with necessities, in case the shelling gets worse.

If that happens, we will go to the village where our friends live, they will house us and our granny and grandpa, they have enough space. And if the power goes out, we also won’t be staying here — we’ll freeze, everything in our flat works on electricity. In general, it’s very scary out here, but for now we will see what’s going to happen next.

‘The mood in the city is like a raw nerve’

Natasha, 44. The city of Hola Prystan

Military convoys are always moving along the highway above the city. Some of the soldiers remain here. I’ve never seen so many “orcs” (a term used by Ukrainians to describe Russian invaderstranslator’s note) in Hola Prystan. They’ve started living in the empty houses whose owners had left the city due to the war. There are so many soldiers here.

I can’t leave the city because my father is very ill. My sister and I keep watch beside his bed in turns. I live alone with two children now. On the first day of the war, my husband managed to escape to Kherson, and then to Odesa, where he’s serving in the territorial defence forces.

I had just quit my job before the war started. I didn’t have enough time to apply for unemployment, so I have no pay check and no state assistance. I don’t take the Russians’ money on principle.

During the first months, my husband transferred money to my card, that’s how we survived. Then, after invaders had cut off communication, we lived using what we had saved up for a while. Now, we have no money but we still have some food left.

From time to time, my friends from the village bring me a big bag of food. The last time, there was fresh fish, pasta, potatoes, onions, and other vegetables. Also, a bottle of red wine, but I will keep it for the day Hola Prystan is liberated.

When I’m given a lot of food, I divide it into several bags equally and take them to my relatives and friends in the city. And they all do the same.

The attacks are constant. In order not to go crazy from fear for my kids and relatives, I’ve gotten used to going to the church near the market. There’s a good priest there, he gives me the strength to continue waiting and enduring hardships.

By the way, we have another church in the city, the one near the school; the priest there is some avid Russian world propagandist. I’ll never go there again. Furthermore, he’s a cheapskate: after the medicine had started being delivered from Crimea, he began selling it for double the price. What a “holy” person, helping those in need.

A few days ago, my acquaintances packed their bags in a state of hysteria and left in the direction of Crimea. Turned out they sent their child and grandma there under a wellness programme, and the two didn’t come back.

They waited for their return for a long time, trying to find out any information at all from the occupation “government”, but alas. Eventually, their nerves gave out, they dropped everything and left to search for their child and grandma in different camps. I don’t know if they did find them. There’s no way to contact them anymore.

The soldiers transported our disabled and elderly from the city retirement home to some other place — “evacuated” them, so to say. One of the old men from there is pretty good with tech, he knows how to use a smartphone. So, he texted the employees that they had been placed in tents in some camp in the Krasnodar region [of Russia]. He complained about the lack of living conditions — there’s no healthcare, and basically no food.

We were all shocked, of course. How come? They need round-the-clock care and good nutrition. They advertised this evacuation so much too, promised restaurant-like meals to people.

That old man didn’t get in contact with us again. I have zero clue where they are now. However, Russians loaded all the equipment, furniture, fridges, and TVs from the pension rooms into their [all-terrain vehicles] Urals and transported it to who knows where.

Collaborators have lost their last marbles. One of them kept talking about how the Kyiv regime had disrespected her, then she went and received a Russian passport.

Now that Russians have started abandoning all their supporters, she is on the move, going around and discussing how to ask Zelensky for protection, as if she’s a political refugee. To be honest, we are laughing at her. Don’t even know what will happen to her in the future.

The prices have become outrageous here. Whoever sold vegetables at the market is now rich. I tell them: for this price, eat this food yourself, don’t choke on it.

The war has ended up being an event that exposed the true nature of many — to be honest, I’m shocked by the actual character of some of the people I know that was revealed.

I’m very happy for Kherson, I even shed a tear. I hope we’re liberated soon, too; we’ve been living in this hell for nine months. The mood in the city is like a raw nerve. We only pray that Russian soldiers go back to where they came from.

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