Andriy cries in despair behind an ambulance as he covers a dog with a black bag, then takes it away again. He’s lost touch with reality and is in an obvious state of confusion. An acquaintance approaches to help him, but he first thanks him and then chases him away.
“Is it your dog?” we ask as we pass by, just to say something. “No, he was a friend of mine, his name is Fedor.” A nurse tries to distract him, but he screams that nobody must touch Fedor. Across the street, in a large parking lot, a thermal blanket covers a dead body. A man is staring at it, likewise crying in despair. Here, health workers are handling the body and policemen are collecting information. The man doesn’t scream, he just cries.
We are in front of a center for amputees, this one housing people without arms, where Andriy was working as a volunteer in exchange for room and board. Until 8:30 a.m. on Monday morning, when Russian missiles hit the area, and the blast threw Fedor against the wall, causing the window panes to break and fall on the dog’s back. The dog crawled away for a few meters and died in the middle of the street. The woman, on the other hand, died instantly, nearly decapitated by a fragment.
All across the street, the metal sheets are deformed. The heat of the explosions has torn them apart, and inside a shed we can glimpse some charred police vehicles. That was probably the target, more than 200 meters away. “Collateral damage,” they call it, but nobody explains that to Andriy. Or to the lady sitting in a car looking at photos of her sister, who’s the one lying dead on the asphalt, and crying her eyes out.
This is just the first of the bombings to hit Kherson on this day. All day long, bombs are falling on civilian homes in the northern area; here, however, there is nothing. Only cottages or old two-story houses fixed up with some plaster, now with burning roofs.
There are no military buildings or infrastructure for at least two kilometers in every direction. We follow the firefighters who tirelessly run from house to house to keep the fires from spreading; they speak very little, but are never rude.
Late in the afternoon, the Ukrainians strike back, and a thick black plume of smoke rises across the river from an area that seems to be the river docks. No one dares stick their head out too far to watch from the shore: the Russians are firing and the distance is short. Only a row of wooden houses provide shelter from fire, too little to stop a mortar. Some are also talking about snipers positioned as deterrents to Ukrainian maneuvers, but so far we have no direct evidence of this.
At sunset, Moscow fires back in turn, and a large house is hit a short distance from the famous Antonovsky Bridge, which is partly collapsed and sunk. The firefighters act quickly, but they are too exposed and they know it. Shortly afterwards, the Russians strike again in the same place: it’s the “double tap,” the strategy of hitting the same spot again to do as much damage as possible among rescue workers as well. On Monday, it didn’t work: the firefighters were all OK.
While radio and TV stations relayed the news about Zelensky and Biden’s telephone talks, here in Kherson the rumblings were constant. All talk of peace now feels like it’s from a long-gone era, despite statements from the White House press office about the Ukrainian president’s willingness to engage in negotiations for “a just peace based on fundamental principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter” and in a broad international forum.
The principles the Kyiv leader wants respected include territorial integrity, and the context should be that of a major peace conference in which Russia is in a minority position and doesn’t have veto power (as it might have at the UN). It seems hard to believe Zelensky would ever be persuaded to cede Mariupol and part of Zaporizhzhia oblast to Putin.
There might be some inkling of progress on Crimea and the separatist Donbass, but not openly; diplomacy moves on different planes, and the most visible one is the least credible. At the moment, there is an enormous distance between the Ukrainian and the Russian position: Moscow would like the occupied territories to be considered already part of the Russian Federation. If Zelensky were to accept that, he would be swiftly removed. On the other hand, the “czar” won’t be able to justify tens of thousands of dead troops without any territorial gain.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine the situation is getting worse and worse. According to Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, at the moment even a “total blackout” has become a “realistic” scenario. On Sunday, regional authorities in Odessa said it would take three months to restore the power lines in the city, and the situation in the Black Sea’s most important port is getting progressively worse.
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