Liberated but still under attack: how Russia is shelling Kherson, a city in South of Ukraine
Kherson was the only regional center in Ukraine that Russia temporarily occupied upon its full-scale invasion. In eight months, the city saw many horrors Russia has brought to Ukraine: humanitarian crisis, persecution of the locals, torture chambers, attempts to destroy national identity, and more. In November 2022, the city was liberated by Ukrainian forces, but it still lives under the constant threat of shelling that hit residential areas and kill civilians.
Kherson region is well-known in Ukraine as a land of watermelons and tomatoes. The city of Kherson is a substantial economic center in the South of Ukraine with a large railway hub, as well as a trade port.
The city was named after the ancient Greek city of Chersonese: in translation, it means “peninsula”. Due to its geographical location, Kherson is sometimes also called the “gateway to Crimea”. From the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the city and the Kherson region were under threat due to their proximity and ties to the peninsula. For instance, the North Crimean Canal, which provided 85% of Crimea’s freshwater needs until 2014, is located here.
And thus, from the first hours of the full-scale Russian invasion, the Kherson region came under attack. Russia used the militarized Crimea as a springboard for an attack from the south.
February 24 – February 28, 2022
The morning of February 24. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of a full-scale war, calling it a “special military operation in Ukraine”. Immediately after his statement, convoys of Russian military equipment moved through checkpoints located on the administrative border with temporarily occupied Crimea. At six o’clock in the morning, explosions were already heard in Kherson, and columns of smoke were seen from the direction of the airport in Chornobaivka.
The Russians advanced very quickly on the territory of the Kherson region. Closer to noon, they seized the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant and the administration building of the North Crimean Canal, and hung their flags on them. By the evening, the Russian forces had captured the town of Henichesk.
The next day, February 25, the battles began for the Antonivka Bridge on the approach to Kherson. The Russians used the landing party there, and it played a critical role in the rapid occupation of Kherson.
Battles for the bridge lasted a day. However, it was difficult to resist the onslaught that was moving from the Crimean side, says Ukrainian warrior Maksym Nehrov.
“They were coming, and there were tens or even hundreds of units of heavy equipment. Although fear may have initially set in, resistance began from the first hours. But it was an inadequate ratio of the forces and means of the advancing enemy and our defense forces,” Nehrov recalled.
March 1, 2022
On February 28, Russian forces surrounded Kherson. And the very next day began shelling the city with artillery. Russians set up roadblocks around the city, captured the river port and the railway station.
“The Russians are now everywhere in the city… They attack our food stores more. It seems that they ran out of all food supplies and went into the city to survive… There is a lot of tension in the city,” locals said back then.
During the offensive, the Russians destroyed residential buildings, shopping centers, and other buildings, and killed civilians. According to the city council, at least 40 people were killed on the first day of the offensive.
March 5-6, 2022
The residents of the city immediately began to protest against the Russian occupation.
Peaceful demonstrations began on March 5, when many citizens gathered on Freedom Square near the regional state administration. People chanted: “Kherson is Ukraine!” and “Russians, go home!”. The occupational forces started shooting in the air, however it didn’t frighten people. According to estimates, 4 or 5 thousand people gathered at the anti-Russian rally.
Similar meetings were held daily, but most locals went to rallies on Sundays.
March 21-22, 2022
During the third week of the occupation, the Russians started to disrupt peaceful rallies of Kherson residents. They threw tear gas grenades and fired shots, which led to several injuries and arrests. Despite this, the protesters regrouped on a nearby street and persisted with their demonstrations.
Over the next few days, the Russian Guard tried to disperse the demonstrators using special means, mainly stun grenades, tear gas, and firing into the air, but in vain. Ukrainians dispersed for some time, provided first aid to the lightly wounded, and returned again and again.
In early April, it became increasingly perilous to hold rallies. Nevertheless, protestors persisted, and on April 10, a large demonstration took place, with crowds filling almost the entire central square of the city.
Until the end of April, a blue-yellow flag flew over the city council of Kherson. However, by April 25, the situation had taken a turn for the worse when the Russians seized control of the city council’s premises. The following day, they announced the appointment of their own leaders for Kherson and the surrounding region.
The living conditions in Kherson under occupation were dire and, at the same time, the occupiers prevented any safe passage out of the city. Despite this, many people risked their lives and fled through Mykolaiv to the West of Ukraine or abroad. As of September 2022, almost two-thirds of the city’s population of almost 280 thousand had fled.
September 23-27, 2022
Russia staged so-called “referendums” in the temporarily occupied territories of the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, and Donetsk regions of Ukraine. Forcing people in these territories to fill the papers at the barrel of a gun is yet another Russian crime committed against Ukrainians.
The spectacle arranged by the Russian leadership with the signing of some agreements by the self-proclaimed leaders of the temporarily occupied regions of Ukraine about their alleged accession to the Russian Federation in no way changes the legal status of the temporarily occupied territories as sovereign territories of Ukraine and does not have any legal consequences for internationally recognized borders of Ukraine.
November 9-11, 2022
Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Southern direction has been gradually evolving since late August, and by November, dozens of villages were liberated, and Ukrainian forces were getting closer to Kherson.
On November 9, Russian General Sergey Surovikin announced the withdrawal of troops from Kherson and the northern bank of the Dnipro. On November 10, the Ukrainian flag was already flying over the village of Snihurivka, and Ukrainian forces also regained control over the village of Kyselivka, 15 kilometers northwest of Kherson.
On November 11, the Armed Forces of Ukraine entered Kherson. This ended the occupation of the city, which lasted 255 days.
When Ukrainian troops arrived, crowds of civilians gathered to meet them and celebrate the liberation. On Freedom Square, the central square of Kherson, civilians chanted “Glory to the Armed Forces of Ukraine”, hugged soldiers, sang songs, and waved Ukrainian flags. Cars drove into the streets with honks, and residents tore down Russia’s propaganda posters.
After the liberation of the city, 10 torture chambers organized by Russian troops were discovered in the Kherson region, 4 of which were located in the city itself. One of the torture chambers had a separate room: a cell where children were kept.
The room was damp, with three thin mats. According to the testimonies, the Russians tortured the children, didn’t give them enough water, practically did not provide any food, and also used psychological abuse: told children that their parents had abandoned them.
November 20-23, 2022
The Russian forces began shelling the city almost immediately after Ukrainian troops entered Kherson. In particular, from November 20 to 23, shells hit 45 places, killing 7 people. The Russians targeted a garage cooperative in the Dnipro district and a school in Sklotar.
On November 22, a 13-year-old boy was driving with his father from church, where they were hiding from shelling. The child was injured by a cluster projectile and later died in the hospital.
December 14, 2022
Russian troops shelled the Dnipro district of Kherson, and hit residential buildings, killing two people and wounding others two.
“A child died due to Russian shelling. Doctors tried to resuscitate the boy for an hour. Unfortunately, the injuries received turned out to be incompatible with life. Russian gunmen killed an 8-year-old child… Another woman was caught by Russian shelling on the way home. She died on the spot from her injuries,” reported Yaroslav Yanushevich, Head of the Kherson Regional Military Administration.
December 24, 2022
On Christmas Eve, Russian forces fired missiles at a market, a shopping center, and residential buildings in the center of Kherson from “Grad” multiple missile launchers. The attack killed 11 people and injured 64.
Russian forces constantly shell the city and the Kherson region, forcing residents to leave for a safer place. As of the beginning of February, about 57,000 residents remained in Kherson, reported Halyna Luhova, Head of the Kherson City Military Administration at the time. According to her data, about 8,000 people left Kherson in December, and about 3,000 in January.
February 21, 2023
Russian troops hit residential areas, critical infrastructure facilities, a kindergarten, a hospital, private garages, and cars. Several multi-apartment buildings were significantly damaged, and some apartments caught fire due to a direct hit.
In this attack, 5 people were killed, 16 more were injured.
February 24, 2023
The Russians continued shelling Kherson. On the evening of February 24, a kindergarten in Kherson caught fire as a result of Russian shelling.
“During the extinguishing of the fire, the enemy began firing at the rescuers again. Fortunately, no one was injured,” the State Emergency Service said. 3 units of equipment and 13 personnel of the State Emergency Service worked at the scene of the incident.
March 9, 2023
Russian troops shelled a public transport stop. A Russian projectile took the lives of four people. In addition, fragments of ammunition also hit the shop and killed a 33-year-old woman, who worked there.
Among the killed, there were also a 51-year-old woman and a 68-year-old man. Another resident of Kherson died from his injuries in a nearby private house.
March 25, 2023
On March 25, the Russian forces hit the humanitarian aid delivery point. Two people were injured by the shelling: a 41-year-old woman and a 25-year-old man.
March 30, 2023
The city was under fire from Russian aircraft, “Grad” and artillery. The Russians shelled Kherson 9 times: 25 shells hit the residential quarters of the city. One person died, and two were injured.
Russia continues to terrorize Kherson and the Kherson region. Each day, dozens if not hundreds of Russian projectiles hit the area, killing civilians and damaging the building.
According to the Kherson Regional Military Administration, 5,400 infrastructure objects were damaged or fully destroyed in the Kherson region, of which 3,700 are residential buildings. In particular, more than 1,000 residential buildings were destroyed or damaged in Kherson alone.
May 3, 2023
Throughout the day, the Russians intensively shelled Kherson and other settlements on the right bank of the Dnipro River. 82 shells hit Pryvokzalna Square and civilian objects nearby: the railway station and the territory of the railway crossing, a gas station, shops, and a factory.
On that day, the Russian attack killed 24 Ukrainians and injured more than 40.
June 6, 2023
Russia blew up the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant and dam, which held about 18 million cubic meters of water. Dozens of settlements in the Mykolaiv and the Kherson regions, including the city of Kherson, were flooded. This attack caused Ukraine at least $2 billion in direct damages, with infrastructure, energy facilities, irrigation systems, and nature reserves destroyed or damaged.
More than three thousand people had to be evacuated from the flooded areas. And even in those conditions, Russian shelling did not stop. As of June 20, five people had been killed by Russian shelling during the evacuation from affected areas, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine. Another 28 people were injured, including 16 rescuers.
The citizens of Kherson remain resilient and determined to rebuild and restore their city. However, just like for the rest of Ukraine, true safety and security can only be achieved by defeating Russia, removing its army from Ukrainian territory, and holding Russia’s war criminals accountable.