Hope and chaos as Kherson adjusts to new life after Russia exit

After eight months of occupation, Kherson residents were slowly adjusting to their new lives without the Russian army as many braced for a tough, uncertain winter ahead.

With electrical and water supplies cut to the city following the destruction of key utilities by the retreating Russians, residents moved fast to stockpile basic supplies in the southern Ukrainian city.

In the city's main Svoboda Square where only days earlier residents had gathered to celebrate the Russian defeat by the Ukrainian military, residents now queued waiting to collect SIM cards, pensions, and bits of humanitarian aid trickling into Kherson.

The earlier waves of euphoria at times gave way to frustration as residents of all ages elbowed to the front of surging crowds desperate for donated food and winter clothing, with shouting matches and shoving erupting as volunteers tossed supplies into the masses.

At one ad-hoc disruption site, volunteers attempted to keep a crowd of hundreds waiting for hours in the freezing rain from descending into chaos by compiling a waiting list filled with more than 600 names.

"Yesterday was a disastrous mess here," said Maksym, 27, a railway worker, who was volunteering at the distribution centre and also listed as the 235th person in line on Thursday.

"It's first come, first served… some of them are not happy with it."

Here, the crowd was collecting sleeping bags, batteries, and diapers from a local aid organisation partnering with the UN.

As the crowds waited for the arrival of a shipment of blankets and solar-powered lamps, few appeared to acknowledge the outgoing artillery rounds as the concussions from the blasts echoed through the city's streets.

"This is the first time we've received any aid," said resident Tatiana Bozhko, 62. "We are happy. We know someone is thinking about us."

Other scenes were more chaotic as people rushed to vans handing out aid, with residents scrambling to collect basic provisions like cooking oil, pasta and an assortment of canned food from the backs of vehicles.

"This is bringing shame to the city of Kherson," shouted one resident at a rowdy crowd clamouring for donated supplies in the city's Svoboda Square during an AFP trip to the city.

But despite the desperate rush for supplies, others continued to embrace their new found freedom just days after the Russian exit, with many walking through the streets wrapped in the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.

Others were thrilled the Russians had left and the city was still largely intact following a steady targeting of their supply lines and troops by Ukrainian forces.

"I live right next to a police school where the Russians were living that was hit by HIMARS. I only had two cracks in one of my windows," boasted Artem Zeytullayev, 37, referring to the precision artillery supplied by the United States.

But for Bozhko the relentless strikes on the nearby Antonivskyi Bridge were terrifying, even if they were necessary in her eyes.

"These measures were inevitable to bring peace to the area," said Bozhko, whose father helped build the bridge decades ago. "I was really scared."

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