In occupied Kherson, the new reality means high prices, shops filled with Russian products, rubles, no education, and doctors forced to work in military hospitals. Recently, the city in the south of Ukraine also experienced four days of total internet and phone signal blackout.
I realised this when I tried to ring my godmother and that my messages on social media weren’t delivered to friends. “The number you have dialled is not available”, was what the message I was getting over the phone. On 3 June, I finally managed to speak with my friend Andriy (name changed to protect his privacy), and he explained the situation.
‘It’s total hell here’
“It’s total hell here. There is no phone signal or internet connection,” said Andriy. “Some companies have started providing internet connection again now. I managed to connect to a neighbour’s wifi. Russian sim cards are handed out in exchange for passport data. Unfortunately, people comply as they don’t want to lose contact with their relatives and friends. Russia is blocking Ukrainian news sites, Facebook and Instagram, so I have to use a VPN.”
Andriy said that a “United Russia” (Putin’s political party) office has now opened in Kherson.
“They are fully imposing their occupant politics on us… There is no way to leave the government-controlled area. You can only go to Crimea and then enter Russia. But everyone here continues to hope and believe in the Ukrainian army. We hear fighting sounds from the battleground as the frontline is close to us,” he said.
Andriy said he could also hear the shelling of neighbouring Mykolaiv. He previously saw missiles fly above his house in the direction of the city. His heart aches both for his beloved Kherson and Mykolaiv.
Kateryna Volyk, fled Kherson with her family, but knows that Russian occupants seized the passport office near the home she left behind.
“My friend visited my flat and saw the Russians use the nearby office to provide citizenship to those who want it. And some people actually did [want it],” Kateryna said.
According to her, schools stopped teaching on 30 April, and all school headmasters who disagree with the changes are being replaced.
Another Kherson resident said that the city is close to becoming a concentration camp.
“Pharmacies don’t offer the medicine that you need. The abundance of Russian goods in the shops makes me nervous, and the queues for humanitarian aid make me sick. But you can’t judge the people waiting in line, as everyone wants to eat,” said Nadiya Shylyk.
She is worried about soon losing her job. “But I’m still working. Two to three weeks have turned into long months of tough waiting,” she noted.
The self-proclaimed deputy head of the regional administration, Kyrylo Stremousov, said that it would take four months to fully change the currency to Russian rubles.
The residents were outraged when Kherson mayor Ihor Kolykhaiev asked the heads of housing co-ops to count the number of people who left each residential building. Yuriy Sobolevskiy, the deputy head of the regional council, said that there should be no transferpassing of data on the people who were forced to temporarily leave their homes.
By Olha Holovina and Svitlana Vovk