Fleeing shelling, civilians on Saturday streamed out of the southern Ukrainian city whose recapture they had celebrated just weeks earlier.
The exodus from Kherson came as Ukraine solemnly remembered a Stalin-era famine and sought to ensure that Russia’s war in Ukraine doesn’t deprive others worldwide of its vital food exports.
A line of trucks, vans and cars, some towing trailers or ferrying out pets and other belongings, stretched a kilometer or more on the outskirts of the city of Kherson.
Days of intensive shelling by Russian forces prompted a bittersweet exodus: Many civilians were happy that their city had been won back, but lamented that they couldn’t stay.
“It is sad that we are leaving our home,” said Yevhen Yankov, 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.”
Poking her head out from the back, Svitlana Romanivna added: “We went through real hell. Our neighborhood was burning, it was a nightmare. Everything was in flames.”
Emilie Fourrey, emergency project coordinator for aid group Doctors Without Borders in Ukraine, said an evacuation of 400 patients of Kherson’s psychiatric hospital, which is situated near both an electrical plant and the frontline, had begun on Thursday and was set to continue in the coming days.
Ukraine in recent days has faced a blistering onslaught of Russian artillery fire and drone attacks, with the shelling especially intense in Kherson. Often the barrage has largely targeted infrastructure, though civilian casualties have been reported. Repair crews across the country were scrambling to restore heat, electricity and water services that were blasted into disrepair.
Russia has ratcheted up its attacks on critical infrastructure after suffering battlefield setbacks. A prominent Russian nationalist said Saturday the Russian military doesn’t have enough doctors, in what was a rare public admission of problems within the military.
In the capital Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy oversaw a busy day of diplomacy, welcoming several European Union leaders for meetings and hosting an “International Summit on Food Security” to discuss food security and agricultural exports from the country. A deal brokered by the U.N. and Turkey has allowed for safe exports of Ukrainian grain in the Black Sea amid wartime disruptions that have affected traffic.
“The total amount we have raised for ‘Grain from Ukraine’ is already about $150 million. The work continues,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly TV address. “We are preparing up to 60 ships. All of us together do not just send Ukrainian agricultural products to those countries that suffer the most from the food crisis. We reaffirm that hunger should never again be used as a weapon.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Ukraine — despite its own financial straits — has allocated $24 million to purchase corn for countries including Yemen, Sudan, Kenya and Nigeria.