KLAPAYA, Ukraine, Nov. 12 (Reuters) – Villagers with flowers waited on the road to the southern city of Kherson on Saturday to greet and kiss Ukrainian soldiers as they poured in to secure control of the right bank of the Dnipro River after a stunning russian retreat.
Volleys of incoming and outgoing artillery fire continued to fire around Kherson International Airport and police said they were setting up checkpoints in and around the city and searching for mines left behind by the Russians.
The mayor said the humanitarian situation was “serious” due to a lack of water, medicines and bread in the city where residents celebrated their liberation on what President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called Friday a “historic day”.
In the hamlet of Klapaya, about 6 miles from the center of Kherson, Nataliya Porkhunuk, 66, and Valentyna Buhailova, 61, stood on the edge of a railroad track lined with clumps of freshly picked flowers, smiling and waving at passing vehicles carrying Ukrainian troops.
“We’ve gotten 20 years younger in the past two days,” Buhailova said, just before a Ukrainian soldier jumped out of a small truck and hugged the couple.
Outside the village of Chornobayivka, close to Kherson, a Reuters reporter saw incoming Russian fire that looked like cluster munitions hitting the nearby airport. Shortly after, a volley of outgoing fire from the Ukrainian side followed.
Reuters reporters were turned back by soldiers near the outskirts of Kherson, saying it was too dangerous to continue.
An officer was injured while clearing one of Kherson’s administrative buildings, police said.
“The city is in dire shortage, especially of water,” Mayor Roman Holovnia told television. “There is currently not enough medicine, not enough bread because it cannot be baked: there is no electricity.”
THE ROAD TO CHERSON
The road to Kherson from Mykolaiv was lined by fields of miles of abandoned Russian trenches. A destroyed T72 tank lay with its turret upside down.
The abandoned trenches were littered with trash, blankets, and camouflage netting. An irrigation ditch was filled with discarded Russian equipment, and several anti-tank mines were visible along the road.
In the hamlet of Klapaya, Porkhunuk said the village had been occupied for most of the past nine months by pro-Moscow Ukrainian troops from the Russian-occupied Donetsk region “who said they would not hurt us and that we were in our homes”.
But for two weeks, Russian soldiers took over Klapaya and told the villagers they were there to look for “Nazis, bandits and American biolabs,” she said, adding that she had replied: “If you want to look for them, look somewhere.” otherwise go home.”
Russian troops also warned: “If we find out that you are hiding Ukrainian soldiers, we will raze your house and the village,” she continued. She said the invaders also looted houses whose residents had fled.
Moscow describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special military operation”. It has made claims about dangerous far-right groups in Ukraine and unproven allegations that Ukraine has hosted US-run bioweapons facilities.
Kiev and its allies say the Russian invasion, which killed tens of thousands of people and uprooted millions, was unprovoked and illegal.
In the nearby village of Kiselivka, a bunch of teenagers stood on a dust-strewn corner with a sign made from a closet door they had painted “Kherson” on and an arrow pointing to a detour around a ruined bridge on Mykolaiv’s main road.
“We’re here because we wanted to help in some way. So we made the sign a few hours ago,” said Artem (17).
Villagers said the Russians left on Wednesday evening.
“They didn’t shoot,” said Hyhory Kulyaka, 54, who hit a scooter. “They were just gone.”
Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Christina Fincher
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