Russia claims to have liberated southern Ukraine, but hundreds of people flee every day

After four months of living under Russian rule, farmer Andrei Galilyuk walked, bus, car and rubber boat across the river to reach the Ukrainian-held city of Krivoy Rog. On roads littered with land mines, it took my grandfather 12 hours.

He calls the invaders “barbarians”. “There is no other word for them,” he says, describing pro-Russian militants from Donetsk squatting in apartments.

“How can children be there if they walk around the village drunk with guns and grenades. How can a child see this? Galilyuk asks.

Indiscipline among the hodgepodge of mercenaries, conscripts, separatists and soldiers that Russia hoped to attack Ukraine contributed to the chaos of its occupation. Galilyuk says that in his village, militants from the Russia-friendly Donetsk People’s Republic attacked their Russian counterparts when they tried to steal a local resident’s car. The result was a bitter argument at gunpoint between two groups that were supposed to be on the same side.

Andrey Galilyuk with his family in Krivoy Rog.

“They almost shot each other,” Haliluk recalls. “They fought among themselves. They pointed weapons at each other.”

“And they came to free us. From whom? We asked for it? We asked you to come here?”

About 400 people arrive in Krivoy Rog every day from Russian-occupied territories and the conflict zone, grateful to be in the relative safety of an industrial city about 40 miles north of the front line. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, more than 61,000 people have taken refuge there.

Internally displaced Ukrainians are registered by the authorities in Krivoy Rog in May.

One local official in Kryvyi Rih told CNN that administrators began printing documents for the displaced on the day of the Russian invasion, predicting the mass exodus that would follow.

“Every morning I woke up to the sound of explosions and gunfire, and at night I fell asleep to the sound of explosions and gunfire,” Galilyuk says. “It’s quiet here. Yes, air raid sirens come on from time to time, but it’s not like you’re shaking back and forth in bed.”

Kherson resists

According to the local military administration, the Ukrainian battle in the south pushed Kryvyi Rih out of Russian artillery range. But nowhere in this country is immune from Russian missile strikes.

Many days of roadblocks, rockets and

Now Ukraine is bombarding Kherson with its own missiles, using donated military equipment such as the US HIMARS mobile missile system to strike deep into enemy territory.

Ukrainians say the strikes on Russian ammunition depots and command posts in Kherson have made it easier for them to retake the villages, getting closer to civilians they say are working to drive out the Russians.

When Russian troops first took Kherson, locals in armored personnel carriers waved the blue-and-yellow flag of Ukraine in protest.

The occupation has cut off the city’s communications with the outside world, but the Ukrainian government maintains that a local resistance movement persists. Anti-Russian graffiti and images of Russian troops remind the invaders of its existence.

Ukrainian artillerymen check equipment in Kherson, July 15, 2022.

“People have an understanding that the liberation of the territory will take place, that collaborators and occupiers will not stay there forever,” said Natalya Gumenyuk, spokeswoman for the Southern Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

“People don’t want to work with them. They don’t want to teach according to their program, they don’t want to treat their soldiers. They do not want to. It’s resistance,” she says.

Forced to be Russian

Kherson, with about 300,000 people before the war, is the largest population center that Russia captured during its five-month campaign. There, the newly created regional administration has repeatedly stated that it will hold a referendum on becoming a “full” member of the Russian Federation.

The White House believes that this Russian attempt to formally annex the Kherson region, as well as parts of the Zaporozhye, Donetsk and Lugansk regions, could happen before the end of this year. The Russian ruble will be established as the official currency and Ukrainians will be forced to apply for Russian citizenship, the White House said Tuesday.

View of the destroyed Fabrika shopping center in Kherson on July 20, 2022.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared to confirm such intentions on July 20, saying that Moscow’s geographic targets now extend beyond Donetsk and Luhansk regions to “Kherson region, Zaporizhia region and a number of other territories.”

In Kherson, the ruble is already circulating and official forms in Russian are being distributed – regardless of whether the locals speak this language or not.

District Endocrinologist Dr. Maxim Ovchar says he helped his Ukrainian-speaking neighbors translate these forms, but refused to work for the imposed administration.

The Ukrainian mayor of Kherson was detained in connection with the preparation of the Russian-controlled region for a referendum

“I lost my job. My house. I lost some friends, they (were) killed by the Russians,” he says.

The 26-year-old met CNN at a reception center for displaced persons in Krivoy Rog, where he burst into tears as he confessed he was embarrassed about doing charity work. But Moscow was the master he did not serve.

“They wanted to co-opt me,” he says, “to make me a member of the occupational health department. I was the last endocrinologist in the city and probably in the region. Because everyone ran away.

Dr. Ovchar says he was detained twice for insubordination and ended up threatening his family by armed Russians before he fled Kherson with his grandmother. Ovchar chose to travel on July 7, when he said the Russian military was drunkenly celebrating the anniversary of a long-standing military victory in Lugansk, in eastern Ukraine.

Escape blocking

Many main routes from Kherson were blocked by the Russian army. In the front-line town of Zelenodolsk, an hour south of Krivoy Rog, hundreds of abandoned bicycles speak of makeshift escapes.

Recent attacks on pro-Russian officials in southern Ukraine point to signs of a growing resistance movement

Recent drone footage taken by a Ukrainian soldier shows a deceived convoy of women, children and the elderly walking down a dusty road to safety. According to the fugitives, they shot at cars on other roads. This week the Russians shelled the city for several days.

At the Krivoy Rog reception center Dr. Ovchar’s face contorts with tears and anger as he admits that his hatred of the war with Russia has made him question his own Hippocratic Oath.

Ukrainian doctors were treating wounded Russian soldiers when they arrived at his hospital after fighting local resistance. Now, he says, he would kill them if he had the chance.

“Despite the fear and the fact that I am a doctor, I cannot afford to harm a person, but I will tell you honestly, if there was a Russian, I would kill him if I had a gun.”