The mother cried with relief as she cradled her newborn in the only still-functioning maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Kherson.
Yulia Khomchyk, 37, discovered she was pregnant after Russian forces seized the regional capital during the first days of the full-scale invasion in February.
But nearly nine months later, a major Ukrainian counteroffensive succeeded in liberating the city in one of the most significant victories of the war to date – and just in time for birth.
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“She is clearly Ukrainian, clearly born without all this busyness,” Yulia said, nursing her baby girl called Maldina as she sat on a hospital bed next to a heater to keep them warm.
“I’m so happy that she’s clearly Ukrainian. I’m so happy, so happy.”
Kherson’s newfound freedom, however, has brought a new reality, as Russian troops turn from occupiers to attackers, unleashing deadly rocket and mortar fire daily.
The shelling left more than 40 civilians, including at least one child, dead and many others injured. At least three people were killed in the latest roadblock on Monday.
Adding to the misery, the town suffers from power outages, a lack of running water and many residents rely on food handouts to survive.
It’s a huge challenge for Halyna Luhova, the de facto mayor, but she said the city will last.
“The situation is quite difficult,” she told Sky News in an interview on Saturday.
“They are bombing us daily… innocent civilians are dying… but even though we will be hungry, cold, without electricity – we will be without Russians.”
The mayor – known as the head of the military administration of the city of Kherson – took Sky News to visit a number of aid points where basic food and water are distributed to people.
The majority of those queuing for help appeared to be pensioners, but there were a few families with young children.
Dmytro Hubarev, 44, said life was tough as he received a loaf of bread, a can of beans and a can of ham. “We were expecting heat and power,” he said. “Now we are under shelling.”
Some residents approached the mayor with particular concerns, including a woman who complained of a sore eye.
The mayor assured her: “We are going to give people a bag with the necessary medicines. You will receive humanitarian aid with this bag with all the necessary [supplies].”
The woman, Natalia Skyba, 53, did not seem satisfied.
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Asked by Sky News whether she thought life was better or worse now that the Russian occupation was over, she replied: “Worse. Worse. They help us but not for everyone.”
Yet life in this city while under Russian control was a different kind of hell.
People who opposed the occupation lived in fear of being arrested, tortured and even killed if they broke ranks or tried to defy the Kremlin’s plans to make Kherson part of Russia.
It’s not an existence most want to return to – although deciding which is the worse of the two evils is becoming increasingly difficult as Russian bombardment intensifies.
Leonid Borovskyi, 60, inspected a huge grip in the wall of his neighbor’s apartment on the seventh floor of a building in a residential area of the city.
It was caused by a Russian rocket that hit the building the previous week.
When asked if enduring Russian attacks was a price to pay for liberation, he paused and thought deeply before answering.
“On one side – yes. On the other side – no,” he said.
“Freedom has a high price.”
More than 200,000 residents have left the city since the Russian occupation began – most before liberation – leaving just under 80,000 still in their homes.
Due to the danger of incoming rounds, the Ukrainian government is encouraging more people to leave until it is safer.
An evacuation train departs every afternoon with new faces on board.
Sitting in a window seat with a table, Viktoria Tupikonenko, 34, described how her whole family celebrated the liberation of Kherson.
She said she couldn’t believe that a month later she would be forced to flee with her five-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter. Her husband stayed with his parents.
“I can’t believe I’m leaving everything – my native land, my birthplace,” Viktoria said, tears streaming down her face.
“I am leaving my husband but I have to go. We don’t know for how long and I don’t know if I will return, or if our house will survive, or even if I will see my husband again.”
But she has no doubt that this pain is a price to pay for her country to be free.
“Yes, freedom! We must hold on.”