Since Tuesday, when Kherson became the first Ukrainian city to be captured since Russia’s invasion, its population of more than 280,000 has been living under occupation. Two female journalists, whose identities we are protecting, document a week that saw Russian soldiers enter the port city – bringing death, looting and fear – and the brave resistance of its residents.
Monday 28 February
There are huge queues for bread. Flour and yeast have disappeared from stores. I bake four loaves, mixing all the flour in the house – corn, rye – because there is not enough wheat. Then I take bread to the volunteer centre.
There are crowds in the volunteer centre. People are bringing food, clothes, bread, water, medicine, packing it all continuously. The atmosphere is very friendly and uniting. The coordinator, a city council member, is taking sedatives and gives orders in a broken voice. We see many familiar residents – students are making tank traps, someone makes molotov cocktails. Everyone is discussing columns of enemy vehicles moving to Kherson. Fierce fighting took place for several days on the Antonovsky Bridge, which connects the city with Oleshky. But no one still believes that Kherson can be occupied. Adrenaline hits, I want to hug everyone. And we do it. These days, people hug very often.
We head to Potemkin Square. There, despite the siren, children and adults are walking around. Patriots hang a yellow and blue flag on the monument to Potemkin. It clings to the figure of the “founder of Kherson” like a shroud. We sit on a bench, eat homemade bread and drink wine for our victory. There is a siren, a roar outside the city. Some head to the bomb shelters, we stay outside to enjoy the sunny day.
There are queues near pharmacies.You need to stand for several hours for the medication. There are also a lot of people in the supermarket. We fill our backpacks with cookies, chocolate, butter and sausages. But without grabbing everything – not yet knowing how quickly the stocks would run out.
The craft beer shop is closing. The last products are given to people in the street for free. We received two litres of beer each – the last greeting from a peaceful life.
In the evening we meet with friends. We still have light, heating, internet. And in the morning Russian soldiers enter the city.
Tuesday 1 March
The first day of spring. It is snowing. We are sleeping in our clothes with our anxiety backpacks nearby. At night there was bombing again in the suburbs. I sleep only four hours. In the morning we have tea and turn on the computers for news.
Through the window I hear the rough shout “Private! Into line!”. Thirty soldiers with machine guns are marching through the yard. Russian soldiers have entered my Kherson.
Almost everyone is staying at home. In the chats on Telegram we hear that Russians hit a high-rise building. There are dead and wounded civilians. Several who took to the streets have been killed. Shooting is taking place in many city districts. The mayor of Kherson addresses citizens, urging them to stay at home. He assure them that Kherson remains a Ukrainian city.
Our fridges are still full of food, but soldiers of a foreign country walk our streets. A video of Russians robbing a supermarket has appeared online. They march with branded packages to their armoured personnel carriers. We are mocking the looters, shooting videos, posting them in chats, watching their movements around the city.
In the evening, new videos are posted on Facebook – bodies in the Purple Park. Nearby there are molotov cocktails. Unused. These are the guys from territorial defence. They wanted to stop the attack on the city with these cocktails. Everyone died.
Wednesday 2 March
Total silence. Everyone is staying at home, reading the news. The city council building was shelled at night. Some areas are without electricity and water. Nineteen civilians were killed.
The bomb hit the main city mall. Food and alcohol were taken out by Russian soldiers. The mayor of Kherson, Igor Kolykhaiev, demands a “green corridor” for the evacuation of the wounded, women and children. People try not to panic.
Thursday 3 March
We bury our dead. They were collected on the streets by a funeral service. The priest who died in the Purple Park is buried by a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox church. We watch videos and cry.
We spend hours in line for food and medicines, sharing them with neighbours who are sick and too weak to stand in lines.
The Russians have completely occupied the building of the Kherson regional state administration. Their equipment is lined up on Freedom Square.
A large column entered the city. Mostly buses and cars. This is a humanitarian convoy from Crimea to tempt the locals to receive this help and be grateful to Russia for this. They bring former prisoners to act as locals who greet the Russian troops with flowers.
Friday 4 March
They seize the TV centre and put trip wires around. Now we have Russian broadcasting – Ukrainian broadcasting is available only on cable TV.
Everyone is invited to a concert and distribution of products from the Russian humanitarian convoy. Residents ignored it en masse. They had to use their former prisoners from Crimea to make a show.
People with Ukrainian flags come to the square and explain to the Russians that no one will take their products. The humanitarian convoy is told to “go fuck yourself”. A rally on Freedom Square is announced for the next day. Lots of people say they will go.
Saturday 5 March
In the morning, people start going to Freedom Square. Russian machine-gunners stand on the perimeter. Then people see soldiers dragging a detained man on the ground. Protesters jump over a road barrier and recapture the detainee.
The gunners in front of the state administration building fire a warning shot. But people are not afraid, there are crowds of protesters of all ages. They have come with posters that say “Kherson is Ukraine”, they shout “Putin motherfucker”, “Russian ship, go fuck yourself”.
But among the crowd, men in dark clothes are wandering, with hoods, hiding their faces, recording those who are at the rally. One even hisses “Nazi pigs”.
A friend of ours, a doctor, spends the night at work. Kherson women give birth even in bomb shelters: last night, two babies were born.