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Photos: Liberated Kherson celebrates as Ukrainians prepare for an uncertain future


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  • Chamberlain
Local people react to a volunteer from Odesa distributing aid on the main square in front of the Regional Administration Building in Kherson on Wednesday.

Pete Kiehart for NPR


ODESA, Ukraine — The Ukrainian city of Kherson is rapidly coming back to life after more than 8 1/2 months under Russian occupation.

Despite still being without water or electricity, residents are returning to the streets for joyous celebrations. Work crews are hastily setting up cellphone, Wi-Fi and electrical connections. Demining teams are attempting to clear areas around critical infrastructure including the main roads, rail lines and power plants.

Liberty Square in the center of Kherson has turned into a makeshift carnival and humanitarian aid distribution hub. People draped in Ukrainian flags sing patriotic songs. Ukrainian soldiers are feted as heroes: Residents hug them, young boys beg for autographs and military patches. Kids race around a monument wrapped in new yellow-and-blue bunting.

"On the first day, when everyone knew [the Russian occupation] was over, everyone kissed and hugged," says Mariya Kryvoruchko. "We are so happy!"

But despite the current joy, residents describe a terrifying occupation in which speaking Ukrainian could get you detained and people disappeared without a trace.

"Honestly I was afraid," Kryvoruchko says. "At different moments I believed we would be liberated. Other times I didn't believe."

Every night she heard screams from prisoners being held at the local police station less than a block from her house, she says.

"Deep in my soul, I'm still afraid. I don't believe Putin and I'm afraid of him."



Top: A woman touches Maksym, a soldier from the 140th separate reconnaissance brigade, in gratitude. Bottom left: A soldier signs Ukrainian flags in Kherson's central square. Bottom right: Maksym hugs children in Kherson's central square.

Pete Kiehart for NPR



A damaged portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin outside a police station that Kherson residents say was used by Russians as a detention and torture center.

Pete Kiehart for NPR


A burned cot in a police station that Kherson residents say Russians used to detain and torture violators of curfew and people suspected of collaborating with Ukrainian authorities.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

People crowd around a truck distributing medical aid in Kherson on Wednesday.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

A crew from the Ukrainian State Emergency Service searches for mines and unexploded ordnance next to a highway in Posad-Pokrovske, a village halfway between Mykolaiv and Kherson city, on Wednesday.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

A billboard in Kherson city urges residents to vote yes in the widely denounced September referendum that was held under Russian occupation to decide whether the region should join the Russian Federation. The purported results of the referendums led to Russia's formal annexation of the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

Mariya Kryvoruchko, 70, with her son-in-law's dog, Sana, in Kherson on Wednesday. Kryvoruchko describes the city under occupation as like living in a "vacuum," and says she could hear screaming from a makeshift detention center less than a block from her house.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

Left: Men in uniforms from an internet provider work on elevated wires. Kherson's infrastructure for basic services has been destroyed, leaving the city largely without electricity, water, heat and internet. Right: A woman becomes emotional after laying flowers at a makeshift memorial in Buzkovy Park, on the spot where Ukrainian territorial defense volunteers were killed by Russian forces March 1.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

A destroyed bridge near recently liberated Klapaya, about 12 miles outside Kherson city, on Wednesday.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

Graffiti depicts Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander in chief of Ukraine's armed forces, in Kherson's central square. The inscription reads, "God and the chief Zaluzhnyi are with us."

Pete Kiehart for NPR

Local youth drape themselves in Ukrainian flags in recently liberated Kherson on Wednesday.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

People visit a makeshift monument on the central square of recently liberated Kherson on Wednesday.

Pete Kiehart for NPR
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  • Chamberlain

Photos: The emotional scenes as the 1st train from Kyiv arrives in liberated Kherson



Oksana Shevliuha, 51, wears a Ukrainian flag as she greets her daughter, Anastasia, who arrived on the first train to reach liberated Kherson on Saturday. They had not seen each other for six months. The first Ukrainian Railways train arrived in Kherson following a Russian occupation that lasted more than eight months.

Carol Guzy for NPR

As Ukraine's nine-month war grinds on, the arrival of Ukrzaliznytsia, the national railway, has become synonymous with liberation in previously Russian-occupied cities and towns.

When Ukrainian forces recapture areas from Russia, residents have come to expect a few immediate things: seeing the Ukrainian flag raised over administration buildings or other landmarks, the arrival of badly needed medicine, food and generators, perhaps the installation of a temporary cell tower.

But the most powerful sign of liberation is when a Ukrainian Railways train pulls into town.

So when Kherson, liberated nearly two weeks ago from eight months of brutal Russian occupation, greeted its first passenger train from Kyiv on Saturday, it was a moment to celebrate.

Family members who'd been separated for months poured out onto the platform and embraced their loved ones in tearful, joyful reunions. Passengers gawked as they took in the destruction left in the wake of Russia's occupation.

Here are some scenes from that day.


A Ukrainian Railways train operator in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, prepares the train for the first trip to recently liberated Kherson on Saturday.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

People greet each other on the platform as a train bound for Kherson makes a stop in Mykolaiv on Saturday.

Pete Kiehart for NPR


Ukrainian Railways staff prepare for departure from Mykolaiv on the train headed to Kherson. The train was fitted with improvised armor and pushed empty cars ahead of it as precautionary measures.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

Passengers ride the first Ukrainian Railways train to recently liberated Kherson on Saturday.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

Ukrainian Railways employee Halyna Rospodnyuk eats a breakfast of traditional Ukrainian salo (cured pork fat) sandwiches on the train.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

Passengers film ammunition boxes and other evidence of war from the train.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

People play with their cat on the train.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

A woman waves to the train.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

Left: Mykola Desyatnikov, 56, holds a rose as he waits for his wife Lyudmila, whom he has not seen for four months, as she arrives on the first train to reach Kherson after the end of Russian occupation. Right: Desyatnikov runs alongside the train as it arrives.

Left: Carol Guzy, Right: Pete Kiehart for NPR



A man photographs the train and people line the bridge above as the train arrives in Kherson on Saturday. Some of the train cars had been decorated by Ukrainian artists.

Carol Guzy for NPR

Liudmyla, center, wipes her eyes and welcomes her granddaughter, Ania, who arrived Saturday on the first Ukrainian Railways train to reach liberated Kherson.

Carol Guzy for NPR

People pose for photos with Ukrainian singer Kolya Serga (right) on the train platform.

Carol Guzy for NPR

Oleksandr Kamyshin, CEO of Ukrainian Railways, walks through the Kherson railway station after the first passenger train in nine months arrived on Saturday. For now, basic services including water, heat and connectivity remain essentially nonexistent in the city.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

People use one of the train station halls in Kherson as a charging station for their phones and other devices. Basic services including water, heat and internet connectivity are essentially nonexistent in the city.

Pete Kiehart for NPR

Soldiers sign a child's Ukrainian flag at the train station in Kherson.

Carol Guzy for NPR

Elena weeps as she listens to Ukrainian musical performers after the first train arrives in Kherson on Saturday.

Carol Guzy for NPR

The first train launched by Ukrainian Railways from Kyiv to Kherson after its arrival in the recently liberated city on Saturday.

Carol Guzy for NPR
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