US Defense Secretary spoke to Russian counterpart for the first time since Feb. 18, urging an “immediate ceasefire”

Ukrainian officials say there is a growing humanitarian crisis in the Russian-occupied Kherson region in the south of the country, with hundreds of civilians trying to escape the area every day and Russian troops raiding villages.

Getting a true picture of what is happening in Kherson is difficult as the activities of Ukrainian telecom companies have been blocked and people find it more difficult to get in and out of the region.

Those who try to leave are at significant risk.

Oleksandr Vilkul, head of Kryvyi Rih’s military administration, said on Thursday that Russian artillery had fired at a column of civilian vehicles trying to leave the town of Beryslav in Kherson. He said there were a total of about 5,000 people in the convoy.

Vilkul said the Russians had stopped about 1,000 vehicles and only started releasing them in batches of 200 in the afternoon. They had then shelled one of the columns as it crossed the Ukrainian occupied territory. Two people were injured, a woman and an 11-year-old boy. Both were taken to hospital in Kryvyi Rih, Vilkul said.

Ukrainian officials estimate that as many as 45% of the Kherson region’s population has left. Those still in the region face increasing hardships, according to Ukrainian officials.

Yurii Sobolievskyi, first deputy head of the Kherson Regional Council, said on Ukrainian television that there is a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the city of Kherson.

“Our hospitals are out of fuel and medicine, and there is a problem with the food supply,” he said.

Food shortages and claims of theft: Sobolievskyi said farmers and businesses were still trying to feed the city and some volunteers were able to get supplies from neighboring regions.

There were also volunteers who brought food and medicine from Mykolaiv and Odessa. “We’re just scribbling on,” he said.

He said some civilians had to accept food from the Russians in order to survive.

The Russians “just want to create a vacuum in the Kherson region, create a humanitarian catastrophe and then fill it with their humanitarian aid. If we had humanitarian corridors, they wouldn’t be able to demonstrate that they are helping the population.”

Sobolievskyi also said that “the raid on our farmers continues.”

“They don’t just steal grain, they also steal equipment; they just take it out and then it floats to Crimea and the Russian Federation itself.” CNN has reported that thousands of tons of grain and farm equipment worth millions of dollars have been stolen in Kherson.

Services interrupted and violence documented: Serhii Khlan, a deputy in Kherson’s regional council, said on Thursday that Russian troops looted villages and launched intensive searches, as well as a count of those left behind in some areas.

Khlan also said that the Russians have indicated “that they will import teachers from Crimea because our teachers don’t want to work on Russian programs. Those few teachers who agree to work – we know them personally – and they will be criminally liable for it.” .”

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said this week that Ukrainian authorities are documenting alleged Russian crimes in Kherson, including “violence against people, mass kidnappings, torture in basements, theft of property, attempts to create fictitious management structures.”

Status of resistance: Podolyak also said that “resistance to the Russian invasion of southern Ukraine is very strong at all levels.”

But there has been less evidence of street protests in Kherson in recent weeks than in March. On May 9, when the newly installed Russian-backed government held the Victory Day commemorations, no counter-protests were visible.

It is unclear whether this is because of the arrest of activists or because so many people have left the region. Sobolievskyi said there was a great risk to the life and health of people taking to the streets and acknowledged that the protests were smaller. It could also be partly because people can’t connect through Ukrainian mobile operators.

Ukrainian officials say the army is “taking some victories” in destroying Russian ammunition depots and equipment in Kherson, but there has been little movement on the ground in recent weeks, and fresh Russian convoys have been seen passing through Kherson in recent days. lines travel to the front in neighboring Zaporizhzhya. In addition to taking the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the Russians appear to be planning to separate Kherson from the rest of Ukraine.

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