© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking at a joint press conference with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala (invisible) as the Russian attack on Ukraine continues, in Kiev, Ukraine October 31, 2022 REUTERS / Vyacheslav Ratyński
KHERSON, Ukraine (Reuters) – Kherson utility companies have been working to restore critical infrastructure damaged and mined by fleeing Russian forces, with most homes in southern Ukraine still lacking electricity and water, regional officials said on Sunday.
Among the joys, some of the city’s inhabitants spoke about the ill-treatment by the Russians during the occupation of Kherson.
The governor of Kherson Oblast, Yaroslav Yanushevych, said the authorities had decided to keep the curfew from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. and prohibit people from leaving or entering the city as a security measure.
“The enemy has mined all critical infrastructure facilities,” Januszewycz said on Ukrainian television. “We are trying to get together in a few days and (then) open the city,” he said.
Ukrainian troops arrived in downtown Kherson on Friday after Russia left the only regional capital it had captured since its invasion in February. The withdrawal marked Russia’s third major retreat in the war, and the first to relinquish such a large occupied city in the face of a major Ukrainian counter-offensive that recaptured parts of the East and South.
The artillery exchange echoed in the city on Sunday, but failed to discourage crowds of joyful, flag-waving residents gathering in the main square of Kherson, wrapped against the cold. Crowds tried to catch cell phone signals from Starlink ground stations being carried on Ukrainian military vehicles.
“We are happy now, but we are all afraid of bombings from the left bank,” said 35-year-old singer Yana Smyrnova, referring to the Russian guns on the eastern side of the Dnieper, which flows near the city.
Smyrnova said she and her friends had to draw river water for bathing and flushing toilets, and only a few residents were lucky enough to have generators that power pumps to draw water from the well.
Local authorities said most of the city lacked electricity or water. Yuri Sobolevsky, the first vice-chairman of the Kherson regional council, told Ukrainian television that although the authorities were working to restore critical services, the humanitarian situation remained “very difficult”.
“OUR BOYS AND GIRLS”
Some of those celebrating in Kherson’s main square, however, said the problems had faded compared to the joy of seeing Ukrainian troops entering the city.
“When we saw our army, all problems with water and electricity disappeared,” said 36-year-old clothing designer Yana Shaposhnikova. “And the outbursts aren’t that scary. Our boys and girls (soldiers) are here. So it’s not that scary.
Officials reported some early progress in restoring normality in the city.
The advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky, Kyryl Tymoshenko, said in the Telegram messaging app that a mobile connection is already operational in the city center, while the head of the Ukrainian state railways said that rail connections to Kherson are to be resumed this week.
Residents said the Russians had been gradually withdrawing over the past two weeks, but their final departure only became clear when the first Ukrainian troops entered Kherson on Thursday.
“It was gradual,” says filmmaker Alexii Sandakov, 44. “Their special police went first. Then the ordinary police and their administration. Then you started to see fewer soldiers in the supermarkets, and then their military vehicles drove away. “
Many residents Reuters interviewed said they tried to minimize their contact with the Russians and knew people who had been arrested and abused for showing Ukrainian patriotism.
Reuters couldn’t verify such accounts right away.
From the beginning of the war, Russia denied abuses against the civilian population or attacks on civilians.
“We had to bury our (Ukrainian) flag underground,” said Shaposhnikova, who was wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap. “If you were wearing something yellow and blue (in Ukrainian national colors), you could be shot or invited to a basement where you would be tortured.”
She said Russian police had arrested a friend of hers who was a volunteer delivering humanitarian aid to remote areas. They took her to an underground prison and deprived her of sleep for three days during interrogation, demanding information as to whether she was revealing her positions to the Ukrainian military, Shaposhnikova said.
Sandakov said Russian troops looted the homes of Ukrainian soldiers who left the city prior to the takeover and will check the bodies of young men passing through checkpoints for tattoos of Ukrainian nationalist groups.
Reuters was unable to verify these comments on its own.
Ukraine’s defense ministry said it has recaptured 179 settlements and 4,500 square kilometers (1,700 square miles) along the Dnieper River since the beginning of the week.
The general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces informed about the continuous fierce fighting on the eastern front in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
In the last 24 hours, Ukrainian forces have fought off Russian attacks on several settlements in both regions, the general staff said in its daily update.
Zelenskiy attributed Ukraine’s success in Kherson and elsewhere, in part to strong resistance in the Donetsk region, despite repeated Russian attacks.
“It’s just hell there – there are incredibly fierce battles every day,” he said on Saturday.