Free, but in the dark and under the bombs: a Canadian in Kherson | War in Ukraine

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Free, but in the dark and under the bombs: a Canadian in Kherson | War in Ukraine

Residents in an evacuation bus at the central bus station in Kherson, Ukraine on November 23

Canadian Steeve Néron survived the Russian occupation in the Kherson region. It recounts the painful aftermath and the uncertain future in liberated territory.

The night was quiet, but since this morning it's been hell, the Russians are constantly bombarding .

The image has just frozen, but I can still hear Steve's voice trying to tell me and show me, on the small screen of his phone, what life is like in Kherson on this chilly Thursday, without electricity .

He's been looking for a place downtown where the bandwidth is decent for over an hour. Wait, there's a pizzeria open that promises wi-fi in a few minutes, he writes to me, but it's off, since the owner can't install it.

< p class="e-p">Phone in hand, driving his car, he stops on a street corner where the communication passes, for voice calls, but we are constantly interrupted when the line drops again.

I can't really waste gas, so better try again tomorrow, he says.

But Steve is as patient as he is determined . We end up having the line and discussing 10 minutes in peace of this war which continues from morning to evening in liberated territory.

“The streets are deserted, but there are many Ukrainian soldiers patrolling. It is only in the large central square that we see many civilians; everyone goes there to charge their phone, the city has set up a tent with chargers. »

—Steeve Néron

Steeve Nero survived the Russian occupation in the Kherson region.

It's from there that he managed to send us some videos and photos to support his testimony.

Steeve Néron is a Canadian who has lived for years in the suburbs from Kherson with his wife, a Ukrainian.

He will have spent the last nine months almost always confined to his residence, for fear of being arrested by the Russian army or the FSB, the heir to the KGB.

As foreigners, it's risky. The Russians suspect us and may very well kidnap us. It happened to acquaintances at the start of the invasion, he told us in an interview in April.

At the time, we could not neither identify him nor show his face to protect him from reprisals.

A Ukrainian presidential official said on Saturday that power has partially been restored in Kherson, after two weeks of darkness. “First we supply electricity to the city's essential infrastructure and immediately afterwards to private individuals,” Kirilo Tymoshenko, deputy chief of staff to President Volodimir Zelensky, wrote on Telegram messaging, according to Reuters. /p>

His basement was where he hid whenever FSB agents knocked on the door for routine checks.

His wife, who works in the health sector, pretended to live alone.

I have a basement, but the downstairs leading to it is hidden by a carpet and a plant. This is where we also put everything we have of value, and even the food so that the Russians don't steal it from us.

We have been in regular contact with him for nine months and he tells us about the ups and downs of life in occupied territory.

The seasons passed. Steve was always giving his news.

It was spring, during the first months of the occupation. The currency conversion to the rouble, the control of houses, the disappearance of neighbors, the rumors of executions.

Then summer came, with the anguish of a war that got bogged down when the front line no longer moved.

Autumn brought hope, with the counter-offensive that eventually led to the withdrawal of the Russian army on November 12.

Ukrainian musician Kolya Serga waves to the crowd at Freedom Square in downtown Kherson.

Not easy. Yes, free, but not simple. No connection. The army has been clearing mines in my neighborhood for four days, wrote Steeve on November 18.

Then, this week, we were able to talk longer.

Steeve is finally free, but he says that everyday life is trying. The inhabitants of Kherson and its suburbs are now paying the price of the Russian defeat with bombardment.

There was the euphoria of the first three days. People were in the street, everyone was smiling. The hugs, people were kissing, ha! People were so happy that the Russians left. But now it's totally different.

You can hear behind him the sound of gunfire and explosions.

He doesn't jump even more. It's the soundtrack from morning to night.

It is an artillery duel between the Russian army, which is on the other side of the Dnieper, and the Ukrainian army on our side. There is no buffer zone, it is extremely dangerous.

Ukrainians fill bottles of water near the Dnipro river, after the Russian military withdrawal from Kherson.

The city is without water and without electricity. All critical infrastructure has been targeted.

Only gas is available at the moment, explains Steeve. So we heat up a little with the furnace. If we lose the gas, we're screwed.

Steeve knows he's among the most privileged, since he lives in one of the most opulent houses in his neighborhood. He also has the luxury of having a swimming pool in his garden which now serves as a basin to supply the neighbors with water.

Since this morning, a dozen neighbors have come to fetch water with buckets, at least to empty the toilet and wash clothes.

But the days are numbered before the frost and the cold coming. Steve doesn't see how the population will be able to get through it.

It's impossible for people to survive in these conditions, it will look like Donetsk.

He says that this week a shell fell on the house at the end of his street; the grandmother who lived there died instantly.

Residents prepare to evacuate Kherson, after the Russian military withdrawal from the city.

Hundreds if not thousands of residents have made the decision to evacuate as recommended by the government. Gasoline is available again, but people are queuing for hours to fill up before hitting the road to safer territory.

Steeve, him, hasn't packed yet.

Why?

Because I have to convince my wife and in-laws that we are not invincible, that it can happen to us at any time, that it does not only happen at the neighbors' house.

His wife, who works in the health field, is reluctant to leave. Among other things because there is a severe shortage of medicines and doctors in Kherson.

Steve says that this morning the neighbor came to see them because his wife had a heart attack. But we had to tell him we can't help him. My wife had a team of eight, but five people left, they are now only three, and I think that with the bombardments which continue, they will realize that we cannot stay, says Steeve.

I was talking to a general in the Ukrainian army and he told me that my neighborhood has very little chance of not being completely destroyed; so, it is confirmed, the future is very uncertain. It's very sad, but it's the reality.

While waiting to convince his loved ones, despite the fear, the darkness and the bombs, Steeve manages to rejoice in the small victories everyday life.

I was finally able to use my bank card today, my bank had blocked it when Kherson was Russian territory. I bought myself a pizza too at the gas station, it's been a long time.

But the outlook is bleak; he still gives himself a few days, 10 at most, to convince his relatives to evacuate Kherson.

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