Fear is a powerful thing and it motivates many to leave the Ukrainian city of Kherson.
With Ukrainian troops are closing in on the city, thousands have left use ferries to cross the great Dnipro river.
Kherson was the first major city to fall to Vladimir Putin’s army after the invasion began in February and its recapture would come at a major cost to Ukrainians.
In footage filmed for Sky News, people are seen in Kherson boarding boats from the city’s quays, their bags and suitcases dragged quickly behind them.
However, who exactly are these evacuees? Russian officials say they are trying to evacuate all civilians, warning of Ukrainian shelling and “terrorist attacks”.
But in a detailed interview, a Kherson resident told Sky News the evacuation was not designed for them.
“This is not a civilian evacuation. Collaborators flee and those who came to help the occupiers,” said Vlad, a local writer, activist and organizer, whose full name we do not use.
“In truth [those fleeing] no more than a few thousand people a day.
“And who are these people they are taking out?”
“It was mainly families of Russian officers, families of Russian civil servants and collaborators who helped organize the referendum. Among them are teachers and doctors, municipal employees and kindergarten staff.
“Those who took Russian passports.”
“Young Russian Troops Arrive”
Russian educators were sent, our interlocutor says, to help administer a discredited referendum that preceded Russia’s annexation of the Kherson region.
There are, however, newcomers to the city, in the form of young and inexperienced Russian troops.
“I think because of [Russian] mobilization, we can see new soldiers entering Kherson in new uniforms. They are clean, without any dirt and very young. Many of them are like me, with glasses, you can tell they are students – but not professional soldiers.”
Will the Russians try to defend the western side of the Dnipro River, of which the city of Kherson is a part? This question is the source of much speculation.
Russian military leader General Sergei Surovikin appeared to raise the prospect of a withdrawal when he told an interviewer that the situation in Kherson was “difficult”.
Our interlocutor is simply not sure.
“I don’t think anyone knows, even the Russian soldiers,” he said. However, the large-scale looting of this city is not something to be viewed with caution.
Sky News has seen pictures of ransacked shops and businesses with signs placed on the front. “Void”, they read. “Everything is stolen.” Our interlocutor says that everything has been lifted, big and small.
“In the past few days we’ve seen them take fire trucks, ambulances, equipment from the cancer clinic and the regional hospital, anything of high value. They take it quickly, load it into the cars and take him to the Crimea. It’s the looting of a city.”
He admitted that many were worried about a major upstream dam, located in the town of Nova Kakhovka.
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Both Russia and Ukraine have accused the other of plotting to destroy it. Our interlocutor told us that destroying the dam would probably not help the Russians.
“The water will go south where the Russian troops are. It could happen but it means they will flood themselves… But they have this mood, preferring to flood their own people rather than surrender. .”
The next few days and weeks will be difficult, says Vlad. For now, the city’s liberation will not be won easily.
“It’s terrifying, terrifying.”