Hundreds of Ukrainians streamed out of Kherson city on Sunday to flee Russian shelling, two weeks after its recapture from Russian occupying forces prompted jubilant celebrations.
The liberation of Kherson marked a major battlefield gain for Kyiv – reconquered after the Russians retreated to the east bank of the Dnipro River. However, since then inhabitants have struggled with no water, heating and electricity, because Moscow’s troops destroyed thermal and power plants before they left.
Evacuations began last week amid fears that damage to infrastructure caused by the war was too severe for people to endure over Ukraine’s harsh winter. The exodus has been exacerbated by Russian shelling, which has killed 32 civilians since Russian forces left the city on 9 November.
“It is sad that we are leaving our home,” Yevhen Yankov told the Associated Press as a van he was in inched forward. “Now we are free, but we have to leave, because there is shelling, and there are dead among the population.”
Galina Lugova, the head of the city’s military administration, said authorities “will do everything to make the people safe” but that “the shelling intensifies every day. Shelling, shelling and shelling again”.
Vitaliy Nadochiy, driving with a terrier on his lap and a Ukrainian flag dangling from a sun visor, told AP that artillery had hit his house. “Four flats burned down. Windows shattered,” he said. “We can’t be there. There is no electricity, no water, heating. So we are leaving to go to my brother.”
The reasons for the continuous bombardments on Kherson are not yet clear – whether Russia is trying to consolidate its defensive positions across the Dnipro and prevent the Ukrainians from attempting a new attack, or if Moscow is trying to retake the city, after the great humiliation of retreat.
In the meantime, snow continues to fall on the Kyiv region and temperatures hovered around freezing on Sunday, as millions in and around the Ukrainian capital struggled with disruptions to electricity supply and central heating caused by waves of Russian airstrikes.
Ukrenergo, the state power grid operator, said on Sunday that electricity producers were now supplying about 80% of demand. That is an improvement from Saturday’s 75%, the company said.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said there were restrictions on the use of electricity in 14 of Ukraine’s 27 regions and in Kyiv, for “more than 100,000” customers in each of the regions.
He said in his nightly video address: ‘’If consumption increases in the evening, the number of outages may increase. This once again shows how important it is now to save power and consume it rationally.”
Sergey Kovalenko, the chief operating officer of Yasno, which provides energy to Kyiv, said the situation in the city had improved but remained “quite difficult”. He indicated local people should have at least four hours of power a day.
With persistent snowfall blanketing Kyiv on Sunday, analysts predicted wintry weather could have an increasing impact on the direction of the conflict.
David Arakhamia, the head of Zelenskiy’s party, predicted Russia would carry out new infrastructure attacks this coming week and said the week could be “really difficult”.
AP and Reuters contributed to this report