Fleeing Russian 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 kilometre 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 neighbourhood was burning, it was a nightmare. Everything was in flames.”
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, following Russia’s setbacks on the battlefield, although numerous civilian casualties have been reported.
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.
Repair crews across the country were scrambling to restore heat, electricity and water services that were blasted into disrepair.
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.
Leaders were also there for commemorations of the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor, the Soviet-era famine that has taken on new resonance since the Russian invasion.
President Zelenskyy said in his nightly TV address that about $150 million had been raised for the “Grain for Ukraine” programme and that more than 20 countries supported the summit.