Ukraine has liberated the city of Kherson. A year later, Russian bombs are still raining.

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A destroyed building in Kherson, Ukraine, on November 1. (Ed Ram for The Washington Post)

KHERSON, Ukraine – Oleksandr Andrienko lay in a hospital ward in Kherson, his face pale and exhausted, blood still visible from the bandage around the stump of what had been his lower left leg.

Two days earlier, a shell fired by Russian forces just across the Dnieper River had fallen through the front of his car at a checkpoint leaving the town of Beryslav. In the basement of what was left of the nearest hospital, while shells continued to hit the city, a military surgeon performed an amputation using only local anesthetic. Andrienko stayed awake the whole time.

Andrienko is one of dozens of civilians who have been killed or killed in recent months as Russia has continued its relentless offensive on the southern city of Kherson and the surrounding area – an area he was once and the President of Russia Vladimir Putin, going against reality and international. law, still insists it is now part of Russia, a year after Ukraine pushed its troops back across the river.

Ukrainian forces have made dangerous river crossings in recent weeks, aiming to establish new positions and push Russian lines on the east bank back even further. Moscow, meanwhile, appears to have given up on the idea of ​​gaining popular support for re-absorption.

Instead, he has hit Kherson, apparently intent on demolishing the city and its residents – deploying artillery, dropping bombs from planes and firing ballistic missiles.

Bombs are now a nightly reality for residents living in Kherson. And as Ukraine has rebuffed attempts by its offensive to cross the Dnieper River and establish positions on the east bank, local officials and doctors say attacks on the city – and civilian casualties – increased.

In Andrienko’s hometown of Kozatske, on the river about 50 miles northeast of the city of Kherson, only 200 people — less than 10 percent of the residents — remain. They now live under almost constant bombardment. Two weeks before the strike that took Andrienko’s leg, a Russian drone dropped a grenade on his car at a checkpoint, he said, hitting his shoulder with shrapnel.

“Our town is almost gone,” he said. “Sometimes they fire from tanks and from guided aerial bombs. They destroy everything. I don’t know why they shoot like that. Our people are just destroying them. “

Last month, Russia fired 2,706 shells at urban villages in the Kherson region, killing eight people and injuring 80, according to the local administration.

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Leonid, a doctor at one of Kherson’s five hospitals who said he was captured and tortured by the Russians while on duty, said settlements along the river have been targeted indiscriminately. fair

“It is only 500 meters to a kilometer to enemy lines,” said Leonid, who asked to be identified by his first name only, because he was afraid of side effects. “They shoot at us. They want to scare us and break the strength of the people.”

“Is there any logic in their heads? They stupidly follow the orders of their bald leader,” said Leonid, referring to Putin. “They scare people, thinking they will break. And by breaking the people they somehow believe that they will be welcomed back with bread and salt.”

Russia’s intense attacks also indicate a stronger push from the Ukrainian side, which has increased its offensive on this part of the front.

“Yesterday I was standing on the balcony and I was counting how many of our shells were flying in their direction. I was very happy,” said Leonid. “It was good to hear the couple go, and then I started counting: One, two, three… 10.”

“The Russians will see that our troops are being stretched more,” he said, “so they will respond by hitting more energy infrastructure to break us down to prepare for winter.”.”

Over the past month, Ukrainian marines appear to have successfully established a small bridgehead, securing positions on the east bank next to the settlement of Krynky. Since then expeditions and scouting parties have been trying to push south from there.

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But with the river as a natural and complex front line, Ukraine has a gargantuan task.

If you cross the river, on average, it takes 20 hair-raising minutes. Due to the unpredictable conditions and exposure to enemy drones, the orders for each mission are received at the last minute. Soldiers must then move quickly.

Unusual groups of six to 20 people leave throughout the day, but more often at night when their boats can move under the cover of darkness. However, the start of an engine is enough to put off the Russians.

Sometimes the Ukrainians use detachable shacks. Soldiers already on the east bank communicate by radio to tell those trying to cross if and when they should move. The Russians also use thermal imaging to monitor the river.

Maksim, 47, a tank company commander who often leads groups of soldiers across the river, said the crossings were too dangerous for inexperienced soldiers.

“Only a fool is afraid,” said Maksim. “The most dangerous part is getting in and out. As soon as we start, they shoot at us immediately – every ship is a military target. “

At the same time, the regional capital that Ukrainians are trying to protect is torn between two realities.

One of Kherson’s streets, Nebesnoyi Sotni, reflects this strange heritage. On one side of the street, people wait patiently in line for the bus while fathers lead their children by the hand on the way home. Men play soccer on basketball courts.

On the other side of the street there is a trace of destruction from recent strikes: A ruined residential building and a cafe. A crack in the middle of the pavement from a small aerial bomb. Shrapnel blown into side of puppet theater. Damaged roundabout hit by drone a week ago.

Unlike many front cities, Kherson supermarkets and restaurants are working and full. Critical infrastructure was restored. Streets are relatively busy. People attend yoga classes and the theater.

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These routine scenes are interrupted by the mobile artillery units that patrol the city and monitor the skies for drones and other incoming attacks. Co-workers are still afraid, and many residents are on the lookout for informants. When the Washington Post journalists visited the city, an artillery barrage hit in a park just as so many people were sitting down for lunch. As night approaches, the streets empty and citizens hunker down for another night of barking.

“Believe me, it’s far from normal here,” said Kherson governor Oleksandr Prokudin. “Everything is very boring. It’s a very tight situation.”

On that day alone, Prokudin said, Russian planes had dropped 30 bombs around the city. About 73,000 residents – about 20 percent of the city’s prewar population – remain, he said. “This is a horror,” he said. “Simple and clean.”

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Among those who rushed home before dark were Iryna Lytvynenko, 46, and Hanna Romanyuk, 38, who work as nurses at a rehabilitation center for disabled children.

The centre, which houses 13 children, was recently damaged in a strike. The staff made repairs themselves and moved the children to a room that was considered safer. The center is still in operation.

“It’s very loud and scary here now,” said Romanyuk. “Especially at night, when you’re with your children and you don’t know where to run, what to take with you, because you don’t know where the bombs are flying from.”

Both women said that they had decided to stay in Kherson and continue, hoping that Ukraine would win.

“People here are very united,” Lytvynenko said. “After shedding, everything is cleaned and repaired quickly. I think we are incredible. People with the soul of Kherson decided to stay here, those who are sorry for our old Kherson. This is our city, and we will build it.”

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