Fleeing shelling, civilians on Saturday streamed out of the southern Ukrainian city whose recapture they had celebrated just weeks earlier.
The exodus from Kherson came as Ukraine solemnly remembered a Stalin-era famine and sought to ensure that Russia’s war in Ukraine does not deprive others worldwide of its vital food exports.
A line of trucks, vans and cars, some towing trailers or ferrying out pets and other belongings, stretched 1km or more on the outskirts of the city of Kherson.
Days of intensive shelling by Russian forces prompted a bittersweet exodus: Many civilians were happy that their city had been won back, but lamented that they could not stay.
“It is sad that we are leaving our home,” Yevhen Yankov, as the van he was in inched forward. “Now we are free, but we have to leave, because there is shelling, and there are dead among the population.”
Poking her head out from the back, Svitlana Romanivna said: “We went through real hell. Our neighborhood was burning, it was a nightmare. Everything was in flames.”
Ukraine in recent days has faced a blistering onslaught of Russian artillery fire and drone attacks, with the shelling especially intense in Kherson. Often the barrage has largely targeted infrastructure, although civilian casualties have been reported.
Repair crews across the country were scrambling to restore heat, electricity and water services that were blasted into disrepair.
Russia has ratcheted up its attacks on critical infrastructure after suffering battlefield setbacks.
A prominent Russian nationalist on Saturday said the Russian military does not have enough doctors, in what was a rare public admission of problems within the military.
In the capital, Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy oversaw a busy day of diplomacy, welcoming several EU leaders for meetings and hosting the International Summit on Food Security to discuss food security and agricultural exports from the country.
A deal brokered by the UN and Turkey has allowed for safe exports of Ukrainian grain in the Black Sea amid wartime disruptions that have affected traffic.
“The total amount we have raised for ‘Grain from Ukraine’ is already about US$150 million. The work continues,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly TV address. “We are preparing up to 60 ships. All of us together do not just send Ukrainian agricultural products to those countries that suffer the most from the food crisis. We reaffirm that hunger should never again be used as a weapon.”
The prime ministers of Belgium, Poland and Lithuania and the president of Hungary were on hand, many others participated by video.
Zelenskiy said that more than 20 countries supported the summit.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Ukraine — despite its own financial straits — has allocated 900 million hryvna (US$24.4 million) to purchase corn for countries including Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan and Yemen.
The reminder about food supplies was timely: Ukrainians were marking the 90th anniversary of the start of the Holodomor, or Great Famine, which killed more than 3 million people over two years as the Soviet government under Josef Stalin confiscated food and grain supplies and deported many Ukrainians.
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