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Ukraine war: Kherson shelling forces elderly from homes

  • Published
    29 minutes ago

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The elderly woman sits, alone among strangers, at an aid centre in Odesa in southern Ukraine.

Nina survived German air strikes in World War Two. Now, at the age of 91, she is a refugee again.

Hundreds of people arrive here every day, as intensified shelling and fighting forces them to flee their homes near the front line.

Many, like Nina, have come from the Kherson region.


“I couldn’t sleep,” she tells the BBC. “I couldn’t eat, there were explosions.”

Her eyes, hooded with age, are exhausted. As she speaks, it becomes evident that the last few weeks have rekindled the painful memories of 80 years ago.

She sighs. “I want to die in peace, not war.”

Aid workers scurry around her, strained under the load of so many ruined lives.

Valentina sits at an aid centre in Odesa with her bags

They provide food, clothing and healthcare. Refugees are also given free accommodation. Many arrive here with little more than the clothes they are wearing.

Valentina, who clutches a single plastic bag of possessions, fled the city of Kherson a few days ago, the region is still partially occupied by Russian forces. She says it was impossible to stay.

“The bombardment was intense. They attacked, shelled. Sirens sounded all the time. It was terrifying.”

Valentina decided to leave when the local children’s hospital was hit.

“Volunteers helped me to get out. As for possessions – only the most necessary ones.”

Russia has intensified its attacks in recent weeks, causing civilian deaths and injuries in some of the heaviest aerial bombardments Ukraine has seen this year.

Odesa aid centre

Air strikes in Kherson region, have been particularly intense in settlements along the frontline, according to the local government.

“Two months ago, we were getting one or two aerial bombs a day. Now it’s 40,” says Oleksandr Tolokonnikov, the spokesman for the authority.

He says shelling from artillery, tanks and mortars has doubled in recent weeks.

Many residents are now hardened to the attacks, he adds. He recalls a day earlier in the autumn when a shell hit a hospital, killing a newly qualified doctor on his first day at work.

Not far from the site, Mr Tolokonnikov says he saw people on the streets who, despite the ongoing shelling, simply walked calmly in the other direction.

“Some people don’t even blink anymore.”

The intensification of attacks on Kherson is likely due to the Ukrainian counteroffensive. It is making slow progress, but troops have edged forward in some parts of the region.

There have been limited Ukrainian successes in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions.

But Russia is also on the attack. It has lost – reportedly – thousands of men trying to take the fiercely contested town of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region.

Its troops have closed in on three sides in an effort to encircle the town.

Daria, her husband and two daughters at a birthday party

Ukrainian soldiers are dying too, which is why Daria is full of fear.

Her husband, who was called up to the army in May, was recently sent to help defend Avdiivka.

He had been reluctant to tell her about the deployment because he had not wanted to worry her but said he would call her in a few days.

That was two weeks ago. She has heard nothing since.

“We’ve been married for 26 years” she says, her face pale with worry, as we talk near the beach at Odesa’s seafront.

She pulls out her phone, flicks through photos, shows us the couple beaming in selfies or posing with their two grown-up daughters at a recent birthday celebration.

Daria is haunted by the memory of their last parting. She had waved him off as he went back to the war.

“He got on the bus and I stood there for a long time crying. The feeling never leaves me – that I saw him for the last time.”

“We hope so much that he’s ok,” Daria says.

She looks out at the sea, grey under the clouds.

The tides of this war continue to shift and surge. And a country is washed over with grief and fear.

Additional reporting by Anastasiia Levchenko.

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