FFor 12 days, the Ukrainian city of Kherson has been under Russian occupation. In their second dispatch for the Observertwo women journalists, whose identities we protect, describe the rise of tension and fear.
Monday March 7
When you’re locked into a limited space, best measured by your neighborhood, it dramatically changes your perception of time. We do not indicate a date or day of the week. For us today is the 12th day of the war. At noon the guests gathered for my son’s birthday. They presented: half a kilogram of flour, a dozen eggs, a jar of beans in tomato sauce… All these “trophies” were obtained in long queues. Stores sell all their stock to avoid being robbed.
In the suburbs, in one of the largest poultry farms in Ukraine, the chickens had to be slaughtered. The occupants did not let the cars loaded with fodder pass. The city smelled of chicken soup. We have two chickens. In feathers. We will also have soup!
The curfew begins at 8 p.m. Sounds of shelling outside the window. We drink to victory. The guests leave.
tuesday march 8
At 4am they were shelling so hard that our cat hid under the bed and didn’t come out for a few hours. The Internet has fallen to zero, but there is still mobile communication. Even now, we are being asked to be environmentally friendly – to sort the garbage in order to make the work of the services easier.
March 8 is International Women’s Day. Some believe that the “Soviet vacation” should be canceled. People just need something joyful in the midst of this horror, we can’t blame them.
The private medical center says it is now accepting patients for free. However, there is a big problem with drugs. The pharmacies are almost empty. A colleague has a mother with blood cancer. She is in despair.
Residents of Kherson now have two types of entertainment: waiting in line or going to a rally. Gatherings are held daily. They go there as if going to work, telling the invaders in detail how they will die in a foreign land. The soldiers are like stone, guarding the perimeter. Funeral flowers were brought to them – two carnations with a mourning ribbon. Each rally ends with the anthem of Ukraine.
After four hours of queuing, we manage to buy flour, butter and preserves at normal prices. In a store, there are chocolate Santa Clauses. We had as many as we could. There are three children in the family who will be happy with them.
The niece and her husband, for the first time these days, were walking the children. They came to visit us. Children understand everything, says their father. War, say the children quietly. And they don’t laugh, they don’t ask questions, they don’t rejoice over chocolate Santas. Mom hugs them tight.
Wednesday March 9
It’s snowing. The weather has become much harsher. We too, increasingly aware of the consequences that we can see by participating in demonstrations every day. There is a distinct smell of danger in the air.
The Russian guard enters the city. It is a kind of military police, to establish a “new order”. We watch their large column move along the main street – gray vehicles with people in black uniforms.
There are rumors that there will be political purges, that lists of activists and journalists have already been compiled. They want to decapitate the protest movement, intimidate people.
The media are spreading the news that 400 civilians have been detained in the area. There’s no confirmation, but it’s really scary. We are drowned in counterfeits and misinformation.
The “secret discussions” of those who work for the enemy are leaked on social networks: “We need up-to-date information on local nationalists who are very active. First the organizers of the rallies, then we will catch up with the rest”. This is all part of the pressure strategy.
We still haven’t opened a green corridor. It is almost impossible to withdraw money from ATMs, which are rarely replenished. It’s a shame as fewer stores allow card payment for goods. The tension is growing.
Thursday March 10
In the morning we return to the meeting. Friends joke that we’re getting addicted to protest. We see the funeral car going to the battlefields and picking up the bodies.
The janitors sweep the streets. Potatoes and beets were brought to the store, which means that housewives will be able to cook Ukrainian borscht. Grandmother and granddaughter feed the pigeons with fresh bread.
The municipal authorities promise to restore the windows of the buildings knocked down by the invaders.
As we drive home, we see a column of Russian vehicles with the letter Z on their dirty bodies. They slowly crawl along the main street of our city. Passers-by look on with hatred.
The TV does not work – the cable is disconnected. Internet is weak. Now almost no movies are watched, books are not read. The reality is more frightening and unpredictable. But we still hope.
Friday March 11
Last night, for the first time, there was no bombardment. The snow covers the city and erases the traces of the war. We are given a break.
A colleague from a national publication invites us to start collecting data on killed Kherson residents. It’s a great initiative. It will also help us to stay in good professional shape.
Lists of working pharmacies and stores appeared on Telegram channels. The city’s veterinary clinic consults by telephone. The longest queues are at pet stores. Electrical networks are being restored in the suburbs. An unexploded shell that hit the nursing home is neutralized. A generator and heaters are sent there.
There is a lot of love around. People crowd the streets, call each other, share their provisions.
A bit of a real romance. In the Kherson Regional Hospital, young interns got married.
Saturday March 12
The 16th day of the war. There are more and more military vehicles on the streets of Kherson. Last night they moved near our house: my heart stopped for a moment – in the early days of the war they tried to enter, inspecting our yard.
We learned that Russian soldiers had entered a high-rise building and knocked on the doors of the apartments. You better not open – they move in immediately. Apparently, there are not enough hotels for these “guests”.
We put two extra locks on our door. At 7 p.m. sharp, the iron gates will be closed until morning. Meanwhile, the children are playing in the yard.
The hunt for food continues. Yesterday I bought six frozen cutlets. On the embankment of the Dnieper, fishermen catch fish. Here you can buy cruciferous carp, bream. But it is rather expensive.
A journalist was threatened by telephone. She was too active on Facebook. We appear to be under surveillance and need to carefully monitor our social media activities. Again, there was information about kidnapped militants in a nearby village.
A dozen people were arrested in the city. Activists warn each other to change where they live to avoid kidnappings.
We chose a symbol of cultural resistance in Kherson – the dove of Polina Rayko, a local artist (now deceased). Her house, completely painted by her, is near Kherson. Despite the bombardments, it is still safe.