Summer came to Kherson, with thick morning mists and frog concerts at night. Sweet cherries, juicy apples, and all of the many things that the soil generously provides began to appear. And with them came blackouts and mobile phone disconnection.
In actual fact the mobile connection had started to go down intermittently back in April. From the 30th it was gone for days, but after that we still managed to connect to Vodafone or Kyivstar. There was also wired internet. But by the end of May the connection had disappeared completely.
On the night of 30 May, the occupiers switched off the Ukrainian operators and cars with loudspeakers appeared in the city, from which someone in Russian tried to prove to us that: “Ukraine has cut off the city from mobile connection”, and urged Kherson residents to buy SIM cards from Russian operators. The “SIM cards” were simple white plastic rectangles without any inscriptions or identifying marks. They were sold only to those who were willing to first provide the occupiers with their passport details, and those who bought them were not surprised to hear that the “occupational connection” was awful. Even those whose only contact with the “Russian world” came in the form of buying SIM cards, had no illusions about the quality of this “world”. We preferred to sit for several days without connection and wait for a signal from Ukrainian operators, which still came through. That was our principled position.
With the arrival of summer, the occupiers started talking about a “referendum” again. And it looked rather strange. For example, a certain Stremousov, who for some reason called himself “deputy head of the Kherson administration”, stated at the very beginning of June that a “referendum” was not on the agenda, but only a few days later he announced preparations for it. None of this made any sense, because it was taking place in some parallel universe invented by the occupiers for themselves. In this universe, Khersonians flocked to the polls to finally join a country that is killing them, torturing them, raping them, destroying their homes, and selling them counterfeit “sims” 24 hours a day.
Yes, Khersonians fled, but not to where Stremousov called them. The city was severely deserted. According to Hennadiy Laguta (at that time the head of the regional civil military administration of Kherson) 45% of its population left the city and 20% left the Kherson oblast. Those who stayed tried not to leave their homes unnecessarily.
At the same time, the occupiers began to move their families to Kherson. They occupied the houses and flats of Kherson residents who had left the city. They broke down the front doors, slept in their beds, ate from their dishes, kept food in their fridges, watched their TVs – and I am sure they thought it was all right, that everything was supposed to be this way. But in between sleeping, eating, and watching TV, they continued to kill, torture, and rape.
They were looking for protesters, people with an active pro-Ukrainian stance, and former servicemen. At numerous checkpoints, people were stopped, their backpacks and bags were searched, the contents of their phones and their tattoos were examined. At the slightest suspicion, they were taken away for further inspection. The detainees were taken to the building of the Kherson regional administration, as well as to the city detention centre. Many of the detainees did not return.
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With the advent of summer, fighting intensified around Kherson, and by the end of June there was information that the AFU had pushed back the occupiers from their first line of defence in the oblast. Then, in July, there was even more such news, and almost every day we heard about the destruction of command posts, barracks, warehouses, equipment, and personnel of the invaders.
On 19 July, the Ukrainian Armed Forces launched a first artillery strike on the Antonov bridge. The next day, 20 July, a second strike was carried out on the bridge, and on the night of 26 July the AFU hit it with HIMARS. The bridge was then severely damaged and closed to traffic. The Russians put a pontoon crossing next to it, but it did not help much.
Parallel to the Antonov bridge, the road bridge at the Kakhovskaya HPP and the Daryivka bridge over the Ingulets river were taken out of action. The Ukrainian Armed Forces cut the logistics lines and methodically destroyed the Russian grouping on the right bank of the Dnieper. On the same day, Ukrainian forces carried out strikes throughout the occupied territory of Kherson oblast: Chaplynka, Novaya Kakhovka, Lazurnoye, Tavriisk, and Daryivka.
The Russian troops suffered enormous damage. The occupiers had major logistical problems in the Yuzhno-Bugsk direction. The same was happening in the occupied territories of the Nikolaev and Zaporozhye regions. Ukraine continued to liberate its lands.
August came. According to representatives of the Kherson Regional Military Administration, more than 50 settlements in the region had been liberated by AFU forces. The sounds of fighting could be heard even more clearly in the city. And the first watermelons, for which the Kherson region is so famous, appeared in the city. As in pre-war times, there were suddenly a lot of them and they were unusually tasty.
Yes, they were just watermelons, but after all, when you have something important and valuable that connects you to that world, it can pull you out of anything, even the chaos of death and destruction. These usually insignificant details, sparks of memories, and pictures of stability were all we could salvage.
Meanwhile, chaos was engulfing Kherson more and more. The city and the region began to experience more and more frequent blackouts of power, water, and communications. For the most part, these outages were not due to accidents, but were deliberately caused by the occupiers. For example, in order to ensure the stealthy movement of their troops. Once the AFU had established fire control over all the key bridges and roads in the region, any movement became a very difficult task for the invaders. The ground was literally burning under their feet.
On August 24, Ukraine’s Independence Day, standing on the balcony late in the evening, we heard “Oj u luzi chervona kalyna” being sung somewhere nearby. They sang it loudly, sincerely, without hiding. And it was beautiful!
September 1 was approaching. The occupiers were making titanic efforts to ensure that as many schools in Kherson as possible were open by the beginning of the school year. After all, the battle was being fought not only for territory but also for minds, and schools were very important to the invaders in this sense.
Where an adult can be pressured, forced, or intimidated, children must be treated differently: they must be “taught”. This was the logic behind the Kremlin’s strategy of destroying Ukraine, its culture and its identity. Based on this strategy, it was very important for the occupiers to “re-educate” the younger generation.
However, these plans were not fated to come true. Out of 60 headmasters in Kherson, only 2 agreed to cooperate with the occupiers! As a result, teachers were brought to Kherson from Russia, but their numbers were clearly insufficient, and the local teachers overwhelmingly refused to teach children according to the new “programmes”.
On the eve of September 1, a huge Rosgvardia vehicle with the letter V on its side circled around our neighbourhood all day. Armed guards were posted outside the school. Both the car and the guards stayed outside the school for a few days, and then left.
There was no one to guard the school: no one ever came to study there.
 Two most popular Ukrainian mobile operators
 «Русский мир»/ Russkiy mir – Russina world – the imperialistic Russian concept of expansion and unity of Slavic people. In this concept, the second world has a double meaning in Russian, as the world and as peace. This second meaning is taken very sarcastically in Ukraine these days.
 In the war time all local administratitions become civil-military administrations. In case of occupied territories, these administrations are working on the parts of their territory which belong to Ukraine.
 Armed Forces of Ukraine
 Hydroelectric power station
 Oh, there’s a red viburnum in the meadow – one of the unofficial Ukrainian anthems
Read the series by Igor Kuzmenko on how they survived the occupation in Kherson: