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

  • The humanitarian situation in Gerson is ‘extremely difficult’ – official
  • Officials are working to restore critical services
  • For Kherson residents, joy is mixed with worries about water and electricity
  • Residents describe abuse by occupation forces
  • Fighting rages in eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions

KHERSON, Ukraine, Nov 13 (Reuters) – Utilities in Kherson are working to restore critical infrastructure damaged and mined by fleeing Russian forces, regional officials said on Sunday, with most homes in the southern Ukrainian city still without power and water.

Amidst their jubilation, some of the townspeople recounted their ill-treatment by the Russians when they occupied Kherson.

Yaroslav Yanushevich, the governor of the Kherson region, said authorities have decided to enforce a curfew from 5pm to 8am, banning people from leaving or entering the city as a security measure.

“The enemy has mined all important infrastructure,” Yanushevich told Ukrainian television. “We’re meeting within a few days (and then) trying to open up the city,” he said.

Ukrainian troops arrived in the center of Kherson on Friday after Russia abandoned the only regional capital it had captured since its invasion began in February. The withdrawal marked the third major Russian retreat of the war and the first to deliver such a large occupied city in the face of a major Ukrainian counter-offensive that recaptured parts of the east and south.

On Sunday, artillery exchanges echoed through the city, but they failed to discourage crowds of jubilant, flag-waving residents who huddled against the cold in Kherson’s main square. People tried to pick up mobile phone signals from Starlink ground stations carried in Ukrainian military vehicles.

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“We’re happy now, but we’re all afraid of the bombardment from the left bank,” said singer Yana Smirnova, 35, referring to Russian guns on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, which runs near the city.

Smirnova said she and her friends had to get water from the river to bathe and flush toilets, and that only a few residents were lucky enough to have generators that powered pumps to get water from wells.

Local officials said most parts of the city were without electricity or running water. Yuriy Sobolevsky, first deputy head of the Kherson regional council, told Ukrainian television that the humanitarian situation remained “extremely difficult” even as authorities worked to restore critical services.

‘Our Men and Women’

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

“When we saw our army, all the problems with water and electricity disappeared,” said Yana Shaboshnikova, 36, a fashion designer. “The explosions are not that scary. Our boys and girls (troops) are here. So it’s not that scary.”

Officials said there was some initial progress in restoring the city to normalcy.

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Kyrylo Tymoshenko, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said on the Telegram messaging app that a mobile connection was already working in the city center, while the head of Ukrainian 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 departure only became clear on Thursday when Ukrainian troops entered Kherson.

“It’s a gradual thing,” said videographer Alexey Sandakov, 44. “First their special police went. Then the ordinary police and their administration. Then you start seeing fewer soldiers in the supermarkets and then their military vehicles running around.”

Several residents interviewed by Reuters said they tried to minimize their ties to the Russians and knew people who had been arrested and abused for showing any expression of Ukrainian patriotism.

Reuters could not immediately verify such accounts.

Russia has denied any abuses against civilians or attacks on civilians since the start of the war.

“We had to bury our (Ukrainian) flag in the ground,” said Shaboshnikova, who sported a New York Yankees baseball cap. “If you wear anything yellow and blue (Ukrainian national colors), you can be shot or called into the cellar, where you will be tortured.”

He said Russian police had arrested his friend, who was a volunteer providing humanitarian aid to outlying areas. They took her to an underground prison and spent three days interrogating her to find out if she was revealing their positions to the Ukrainian military, Shaboshnikova said.

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Sandakov said Russian troops ransacked the homes of Ukrainian soldiers who fled the city before taking it over, and examined the bodies of young men passing through checkpoints to get tattoos of Ukrainian nationalist groups.

Reuters could not independently verify these comments.

Eastern Ukraine

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said 179 settlements and 4,500 square kilometers (1,700 square miles) along the Dnipro River had been recaptured since the start of the week.

General staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces reported that heavy fighting continued on the eastern front in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

In its daily update, the General Staff said Ukrainian forces had repelled Russian attacks on several settlements in both regions over the past 24 hours.

Zelenskiy credited Ukraine’s success in Kherson and elsewhere to fierce resistance in the Donetsk region, despite repeated Russian attacks.

“There is only hell out there – every day there are very fierce battles,” he said on Saturday.

Reporting by David Ljunggren, Jonathan Lande, Gleb Garanich and Pavel Polityuk Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Tomasz Janowski Editing by William Mallard, Francis Kerry, David Goodman and Jane Merriman

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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