Ukraine’s Kherson races to restore power, water after Russian retreat

  • Humanitarian situation in Kherson ‘very difficult’ – official
  • Authorities working to restore critical services
  • Joy intertwined with concerns over water and electricity for Kherson residents
  • Residents recount abuses by occupying forces
  • Fighting is in full swing in eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions

Kherson, Ukraine, Nov 13 (Reuters) – Kherson’s utility is working to restore critical infrastructure damaged and mines evacuated by escaping Russian troops in the southern Ukrainian city, district officials said on Sunday. Most houses are still without electricity and water.

Amidst their cheers, some of the city’s residents recounted the mistreatment the Russians suffered during the occupation of Kherson.

The governor of the Kherson region, Yaroslav Yanushevych, said authorities had decided to maintain a curfew from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. and ban people from entering and leaving the city as a safety measure.

“The enemy mined all critical infrastructure objects,” Yanushevich told Ukrainian television. “We’re trying to meet in a few days and (then) open up the city,” he said.

Ukrainian troops arrived in central Kherson on Friday after Russia abandoned the only regional capital it has occupied since the invasion began in February. The retreat marked Russia’s third major retreat in the war and the first to yield such a large occupied city in the face of a major Ukrainian counteroffensive to retake parts of the east and south.

The exchange of artillery fire echoed over the city on Sunday, but failed to stop the jubilant, flag-waving residents who had gathered in Kherson’s main square. Crowds try to capture cellphone signals from a Starlink ground station aboard a Ukrainian military vehicle.

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“We are happy now, but all of us are afraid of the bombing on the left bank,” said singer Yana Smyrnova, 35, referring to Russian guns on the east side of the Dnieper near the city.

Smyrnova said she and her friends had to fetch water from the river for bathing and flushing toilets, and only a few residents were lucky enough to have generators that could drive pumps to draw water from wells.

Local authorities said much of the city was without electricity or water. The first deputy chairman of the Kherson regional council, Yuri Sobolevsky, told Ukrainian television that the humanitarian situation remains “very difficult” even as authorities struggle to restore key services.

“Our Boys and Girls”

However, some of those celebrating in Kherson’s main square said the issues paled in comparison to the joy of seeing Ukrainian troops enter the city.

“When we saw our military, all the water and electricity problems disappeared,” said Yana Shaposhnikova, a 36-year-old costume designer. “And the explosion wasn’t that scary. Our boys and girls (troop) were here. So it wasn’t that scary.”

Officials report that the city is making some initial progress toward returning to normalcy.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said on the Telegram messaging app that mobile connectivity was already working in the city center, while the head of Ukraine’s state railways said train services to Kherson were expected to resume this week.

Residents said the Russians had gradually withdrawn over the past two weeks, but their final withdrawal did not become clear until Thursday when the first Ukrainian troops entered Kherson.

“It’s a gradual process,” said videographer Alexii Sandakov, 44. “First their SWAT went. Then the regular police and their government. Then you start to see fewer and fewer soldiers in the supermarket, and then their military vehicles drive away.”

Many residents interviewed by Reuters said they tried to minimize contact with Russians and knew of people who had been arrested and mistreated for any display of Ukrainian patriotism.

Reuters could not immediately verify such accounts.

Russia has denied abusing or attacking civilians since the war began.

“We had to bury our (Ukrainian) flag in the ground,” said Shaposhnikova, who was wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap. “If you wear yellow and blue (Ukrainian national colors), you could be shot or invited to a cellar where you would be tortured.”

She said Russian police arrested a friend of hers, a volunteer who provided humanitarian aid to remote areas. Shaposhnikova said they took her to an underground prison and deprived her of sleep for three days while interrogating her, demanding to know if she had disclosed their position to the Ukrainian military.

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Sandakoff said Russian troops ransacked the homes of Ukrainian soldiers who had left the city before taking over, and would examine the bodies of young men passing through checkpoints for tattoos from Ukrainian nationalist groups.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the comments.

Eastern Ukraine

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said it had 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 Armed Forces of Ukraine reported that heavy fighting continued on the eastern front in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

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

Zelensky attributes Ukraine’s success in Kherson and elsewhere to stubborn resistance in the Donetsk region despite repeated Russian attacks.

“It’s hell there – there’s an extremely fierce battle there every day,” he said Saturday.

Reporting by David Ljjungren, Jonathan Landay, Gleb Garanich and Pavel Polityuk Writing by Clarence Fernandez and Tomasz Janowski Editing by William Mallard, Frances Kerry, David Goodman and Jane Merriman

Our Standard: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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