First you have to breathe, “get used to again”, stay in the refugee reception center located in an anonymous building in the center of Kherson for a while before starting a new life in kyiv, far from the front line and sixteen months under Russian occupation. This Wednesday, June 14, Yulia Valge is sitting on the bench of a calm and quiet building courtyard in the regional capital of southern Ukraine, with her hair cut close to the temples, her bright blue eyes, and like a surface tranquility. The woman welcomes her return to territory controlled by kyiv, “to be able to walk where [elle] want, when [elle] wants, without fear of being arrested, assaulted”.
Around her, two of her four children frolic with other kids. Them too “already feel much better”, she assures before adding that her husband shaved his beard in the morning for the first time after sixteen months of living in hiding, in fear of being arrested. In the territories held by Moscow, former Ukrainian soldiers like him are the first targets of the occupying forces.
It has been two days since Yulia’s family moved into this small refugee centre. On June 12, she and her family took advantage of the floods caused by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, located upstream of the Dnieper River, to escape from the small town of Olechky, on the other side of the bank, occupied by Russian troops since the beginning of the war. Ukrainian volunteers who sailed from Kherson picked them up along the bank to cross the river under Russian fire.
“Completely flooded localities”
After the demolition of the dam on June 6, civilians living in occupied territory were left to fend for themselves. Numerous videos taken by Ukrainian drones showed residents waiting to be rescued on their roofs, in the middle of the flooded streets. “The Russians were totally unprepared for the situation,” assures Serhiy, an entrepreneur from the small town of Olechky contacted by telephone who keeps in regular contact with his relatives left behind. “Especially in Olechky, Hola Prystan or Krynki, the three main localities that were completely flooded. »
Ten days after the start of the floods, the Russians seem to have organized themselves. In Hola Prystan, for example, Serhiy says the authorities imposed a “100% mandatory evacuation” and that the civilians will then go through “filtration camps”. On the side of Olechky, 25,000 pre-war inhabitants, part of the population remained in place despite the difficulties in finding drinking water and the absence of electricity and gas in certain districts. Also, according to Serhiy, the Russian forces have already resumed their flooded positions after the explosion of the dam, along the bank.
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