After Vladimir Putin’s army invaded her hamlet in southern Ukraine and subsequently enforced their school curriculum at the beginning of this month, Oksana did not want to subject her children to Russian indoctrination.
She decided to keep children at home after seeing several teachers run away to avoid being exploited as props by the Kremlin and a nearby school being used to defend enemy forces from assault during Ukraine’s advancing counteroffensive.
She was first warned that she would face a significant fine of approximately £500. Then she received a terrifying warning: if she continued to refuse to bring her three children—who ranged in age from two to sixteen—to school, they would be taken away and transferred to Russia for adoption.
Oksana, a former cook who is now 39, stated, “I had to quit at that moment.” “I could not take the chance of discovering whether or not their warning about my children was true.”
Fortunately, she and her children were able to escape Russia’s grasp, following the last automobile convoys to leave Kherson on Tuesday as Moscow closed all highways out of the area in an effort to take territory from Ukraine.
She left her husband behind, however, out of concern that if they were discovered escaping, he may be compelled to fight for Putin as the Kremlin gathers a huge number of men to use as “new meat” in the front-line “grinder” of its catastrophic invasion of Ukraine.
After Putin’s official annexation of Kherson and three other partially occupied territories, which is anticipated to be finalized later this week as a consequence of fabricated referendum results, Oksana thinks he may sneak across Russia to safety in Europe.
I ran across her in a parking lot of a shopping center outside of Zaporizhzhia, which is used to vet, feed, and support desperate Ukrainians who have managed to escape Putin’s land grab.
In her hamlet, she said, “not one person—not even one percent—supports the vote.”
However, according to the results of the referendum, which Putin quickly convened after a quick Ukrainian push took back a sizable chunk of territory, 87% of people in her home area favor leaving Ukraine and relocating to Russia.
The Kremlin will be able to claim that it is defending its own territory thanks to the staged polls to claim conquered area and a mobilization that has provoked anger, demonstrations, and fear across Russia.
On Monday night, as dusk set, two convoys of around 60 cars each, each loaded with people, animals, and belongings, arrived in the parking lot from the occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia areas.
In very moving situations, several were met with hugs, kisses, and tears. Others told me heartbreaking accounts of destroyed lives, homes, and families while merely seeming fatigued after spending up to six days to cross Russian checkpoints.
Putin is expected to make this declaration when he addresses his parliament on Friday in the wake of the rigged elections. At that point, he’ll likely press-gang many of the unlucky guys who live there into fighting against other Russians.
The eastern “republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk, which were captured by Russian proxies in 2014, have already enlisted some 100,000 Ukrainians. Poor training and antiquated equipment have been used while sending them into battle, leading to high mortality rates.
Despite her happiness at having saved her kid, Anna was forced to leave her mother behind since “she is 83 years old and stated she would not go.”
Women, old people, or children made up the majority of individuals who arrived at this regional capital, which was previously the home of fiercely independent Cossacks until they were forced into servitude by the Russian empress Catherine the Great in the 18th century.
However, some men had managed to avoid the mobilisation in the high-risk lottery. One such guy was Andriy, a 41-year-old businessman who escaped without his family and informed me of the mounting panic among his fellow male inhabitants.
He said that since armed gangs began cruising the streets, they had been terrified to leave their houses.
A guy once went to the store and was fatally shot because he was wearing green pants; maybe they mistook him for a military or something.
Over the previous several weeks, it became worse. The formation of volunteer Russian battalions to participate in the conflict was announced. They promised to enlist 8,000 men from the Kherson area. Everyone began to get anxious.
As they enjoyed tea in a volunteer-erected tent, another group seemed confused. One 33-year-old guy sitting with his sister, wife, and their four small children remarked, “It’s horrific there, absolutely a nightmare.” We are treated like dogs by the Russians.
He stated that while his brother had been wounded in a missile assault the previous week, they had been told to leave after dropping him off on the hospital floor. They were handed his body to bury when they came back the next day.
In order to avoid the military round-ups that would have followed the referendum vote, the family crossed the front line after the burial.
The lady said, her eyes filled with sorrow, “What am I going to do if they take my husband away — I have four children?” She was one of 1,530 civilians that came that day, including 353 kids.
Before it became public the next day that Putin’s henchmen had barred anybody from entering or departing Kherson, local volunteers said that the numbers were declining.
One instructor had finished her Ukrainian studies online and had come with her autistic teenage son. Since it was against the law to teach our courses, she said, it was particularly risky since my kid wasn’t enrolled in a Russian school.
Three female generations of one family who had left their village house when Russian tanks were positioned on one side, missile launchers were installed on the other, and then a neighbor was murdered by an approaching shell were among those on the last convoys out.
They had relocated to Kherson to reside with family, according to Antonia, 39. Then, after looking for a missing acquaintance, her uncle was detained, and Russian military showed up to destroy their house and phones while accusing them of giving information to Ukraine.
She said, “I promised them we would if we could, but there was never any link.” They allegedly threatened to imprison us all and warned we would never see my uncle again if we didn’t leave within a week.
The family said that in the days leading up to the election, the invaders sealed off Kherson, put up signs declaring that Russians and Ukrainians are brothers, and forced people to cast ballots.
They are really annoying, remarked Antonia. I’m so relieved to be free. Daria, her daughter who was 12 at the time, sobbed in relief at her mother’s remarks and her gladness at being free of Russian captivity. It’s going to be OK now, her mother told her.
Other refugees and local officials related how armed men in balaclavas had coerced citizens into voting while they watched, including ordering them to cast ballots for every member of their family and threatening them with deportation if they opposed unification with Russia.
According to the governor of the Zaporizhzhia region, Aleksander Starukh, “Such activities are designed to scare the local populace.” The only purpose of the whole performance is to defend the mobilization.
The last Ukrainian capital in one of the four conquered territories is Zaporizhzhia. After Russian troops conquered more than three-quarters of the oblast (county), including Europe’s largest nuclear reactor, the front line is just around 20 kilometers distant.
It has recently been the focus of ferocious Russian airstrikes, including one missile strike believed to have been aimed against a significant dam, in an effort to undermine opposition as Kyiv’s troops advance in nearby Kherson.
I was awakened by the sound of 10 missiles crashing into the city on Tuesday morning just after 5 a.m. Analysts claim that the used weapons, long-range S-300 surface-to-air missiles intended to strike aircraft during the Soviet period, demonstrate the degraded status of Moscow’s arsenal.
Certainly, the damage I saw to a collection of garages and small workshops, a hotel, and a block of apartments shows the unpredictable nature of such armament if they were targeting at military objectives.
When alluding to the U.S.-donated missiles that helped Ukraine change the tide of the conflict, Sergei, the proprietor of a factory that makes door knobs, said, “Maybe they believed we were concealing the Himars here.” One tenant of some apartments next to a small military post said they had been attacked four nights in a row, with the most recent missile landing 30 meters from his house.
The 65-year-old retired bus driver Alexander said, “They are attempting to reduce our homes to rubble.” “Russia is trying to terrorize people by attacking us in retaliation for our gains.” They are merely shooting at us to hurt us since they can’t stop us.
However, not everyone is a patriot. An old shopkeeper overheard our chat as she smoked on a porch and said, “Ukraine is absolutely absurd.” “The Soviet era was better.” People had enough pensions, so they did not need to work after retirement.
The thoughts of a young couple and their tiny daughter who had come on the convoy from Kherson and were going through Russia’s checkpoint when the guards shockingly gave up after six days of trying, however, were far more typical.
Agricultural worker Polad, 25, said, “I’m so thrilled to be free again.” He revealed to me that four of his companions had been missing for five months, since since they vanished into custody.
We were waiting for our military forces to free us when Russia announced the referendum, but we had to leave.
I was aware that I may be called up for service, but even if they made me fight for them, I could never defeat Ukrainians.
Liudmyla, his 22-year-old wife, is seven months pregnant. She said with a broad grin, “Now my kid will be born in Ukraine.” For us, it is what matters most.