ODESA, Ukraine – The Ukrainian city of Kherson is quickly coming back to life after more than 8 1/2 months under Russian occupation.
Although there is still no water or electricity, residents are returning to the streets for happy celebrations. Work teams hastily set up cell phone, WiFi and power connections. Demining teams attempt to clear areas around critical infrastructure, including major roads, railway lines and power plants.
Freedom Square in central Kherson has been transformed into a makeshift carnival and humanitarian aid distribution hub. People wrapped in Ukrainian flags sing patriotic songs. Ukrainian soldiers are celebrated as heroes: local residents hug them, boys beg for autographs and military badges. Children run around a memorial draped in new yellow and blue pennants.
“On the first day when everyone knew [the Russian occupation] was over, everyone kissed and hugged,” says Mariya Kryvoruchko. “We are so happy!”
But despite the current joy, residents describe a horrific occupation, during which speaking Ukrainian could be arrested and people disappeared without a trace.
“To be honest, I was scared,” says Kryvoruchko. “At different moments I believed that we would be freed. Other times I didn’t believe.”
Every night she heard screams from prisoners being held less than a block from her home at the local police station, she says.
“Deep down in my soul, I’m still scared. I don’t believe Putin and I’m scared of him.”
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