Liberation then shelling, Kherson braces for war's next phase

After Russian shells pounded the industrial area next to their home, setting fire to an oil depot in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, Yuri Mosolov and his wife decided it was time to leave.

With a smattering of bags in tow, the couple boarded their boat and headed down the Dnipro River to their summer cottage, where they hoped to be spared the destruction of increasing bouts of shelling striking Kherson.

The decision comes after the couple endured eight months of occupation under Russian forces who seized Kherson just days after Moscow launched the war in February.

But only a week after Ukrainian forces liberated Kherson, Mosolov sensed a new danger was enveloping the city.

"We lived through the occupation so we will live through (Russia's) shelling," Mosolov told AFP on Sunday as he eyed the clouds of black smoke rising from the fires from the nearby industrial area.

Even still, the targeting of the oil depot next to their home over the weekend left the couple rattled.

"After yesterday's shelling, my wife said: let's not take too many risks and go," Mosolov explained.

- A new frontline -

During the months of Russian occupation of the city, Kherson was largely spared the harsh ground fighting that has left large swaths of Ukraine in utter ruin.

A carefully planned campaign by Kyiv targeting logistics networks, bridges and pontoon crossings battered Russian supply lines and forced their troops to abandon the city and retreat to the Dnipro's eastern bank.

Now, the armies separated by the river are increasingly engaging in heavy artillery exchanges across the Dnipro.

The concussion from the blasts echo through the city regularly.

"Artillery duels are still going on. The combat continues," said Dmytro Pletenchuk, the Ukrainian military’s spokesman in the area. "Kherson is now on the frontline."

Elsewhere near Kherson, Russian strikes hit near a humanitarian distribution area in the village of Bilozerka, sending residents fleeing on Saturday.

- 'Everybody is scared' -

A day later, the area near the strike which included a popular outdoor market was largely empty as residents stayed home, fearing further shelling.

"Now you see there's no one because everybody is scared," said Anna Kovalska, 38, who owns a nearby shop.

Many residents fear the periodic shelling is a worrying sign of more fighting to come.

Ukrainian forces appear to be bringing heavier weapons closer to the city to engage nearby Russian positions.

The increase in shelling comes as residents are already enduring power and water supply cuts while a harsh winter weather sets in, after Russian forces destroyed the city’s basic utilities infrastructure before leaving Kherson.

"We are not afraid when there's no water and no electricity but we are afraid when there's explosions," said Alyouna Yanyk, 43, who works at a corner shop near the industrial area hit over the weekend in Kherson.

But for some, even if the Russians start unleashing their vast firepower on the city soon they will be forced to stay.

"I'm worried... the shelling is happening almost every hour now," said 61-year-old Sergey Gudym, the chief engineer at the oil depot hit over the weekend, as he surveyed the damage to the area.

"I'll stay here. I have no place else to go."

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