Russian bombs batter Kherson neighborhood in shadow of destroyed bridge

Antonovsky Bridge as seen from the nearby city of Antonivka.  The opposite bank of the Dnieper River has been occupied by Russian forces, who are now shelling Antonivka.  (Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post)
Antonovsky Bridge as seen from the nearby city of Antonivka. The opposite bank of the Dnieper River has been occupied by Russian forces, who are now shelling Antonivka. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post)

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The collapse of the Antonovsky Bridge on the Dnieper River below this month marked the end of the occupation of Kherson as Russian forces fled the only regional capital they had held since a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

But less than two weeks after hundreds of Ukrainians waved flags in the streets of Kherson to celebrate the liberation of their city, residents living in the shadow of that bridge, or what’s left of it, have become the target of new Russian attacks.

From gunnery positions across the river, Russian forces continue to shell the city, which they continue to claim as theirs. After an initially quiet withdrawal from Kherson, Russian troops appear to have regrouped on the east bank of the Dnieper in recent days, sending artillery, rockets and mortars roaring toward Kherson’s residential areas.

The renewed bombardment underscores the limits of Ukraine’s victory in retaking the city of Kherson and confirms a sobering reality that military experts had warned about for months: By retreating, the Russians had strategically abandoned an inherently weak position in the city west of Kherson. river, only to dig into more favorable and fortified defensive positions on the opposite bank.

With the bridges down, the Dnieper is a natural obstacle that Ukrainian troops cannot overcome without heavy casualties, and Russia for now maintains its grip on the wider Kherson area, including the vital Kahovka hydroelectric plant and the North Crimea Canal. a very important supply of fresh water to Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.

In the city of Kherson, sympathy for Russia complicates reintegration into Ukraine

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Perhaps the worst of Russia’s repeated attacks has been right here in Antonivka, steps from the former main bridge, where a cluster bomb sent shrapnel into the face of 13-year-old Matvii Kindra on Tuesday morning.

His father, Serhii Kindra, was driving Matvii and his brother home from a humanitarian gathering at the church when the explosion hit their car. The 42-year-old father and his other son, 10, suffered minor injuries.

But Matvii, a passionate martial artist, was in critical condition in the hospital’s intensive care unit. His father stood outside the hospital, shaking and clenching his jaw, his son’s blood still on his forehead and nose. His youngest son walked silently by his side, holding back tears as he looked at the hospital.

“We liberated the city,” said Kindra, “but the war is not over.”

Kindra, a popular master of ceremonies at weddings and events in Kherson, had not yet contacted his wife to tell her the news. She was helping a group of Red Cross workers at the time, Kindra said.

Formerly a quiet riverside suburb of Kherson, where street ads still advertise vacation rentals, the village of Antonivka has become a front line.

At least six people have been killed in Russian attacks on the city in the past five days, according to Mayor Serhiy Ivashchenko, 42. Ivashchenko said he feared the bloodshed could get worse.

Antonivka is the closest town to its namesake bridge, and the areas of the town closest to the river are now mostly under Russian forces.

About an hour after Kindra and his sons were struck by cluster munitions at the bridge, Washington Post reporters passed the family’s battered car on an underpass that residents often use to enter the eastern suburbs.

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Joy ride: Kherson cheers when the first train arrives from Kyiv after the occupation

Sniper fire whistled past, making it clear that the Russians were still in close range across the river.

A Ukrainian military checkpoint was previously located at the bridge, which blocked some drivers. But the checkpoint became a target, Ivashchenko said, prompting the military to move it closer to the city of Kherson.

Across Kherson, officials have offered voluntary evacuations, warning residents that a cold, dangerous winter could be ahead. The evacuation comes days after Kherson residents rejoiced at the arrival of the first train from Kiev, advertised to the nation as the “Train to Victory.”

Most of the city is without electricity or running water as Russian forces destroyed Kherson’s power supply before withdrawing. Cell phone service in some parts of the city, especially Antonivka, is poor or non-existent, making it more difficult for officials to notify residents or call for help.

Just a 10-minute drive from Kherson city center, where cafes and restaurants are reopening and bands have performed in the main square, the streets of Antonivka remain barren.

Rockets litter the front yards of residents who leave their homes to queue for humanitarian aid. But the aid stations are also on target. At a recent food distribution attended by the mayor of Kherson, the crowd was forced to lie on the ground during gunfire.

At noon on Tuesday, Ivashchenko asked an official outside the temporary offices of Kherson City Hall to stop publishing the exact addresses where they were providing aid. He suspected that Russian sympathizers were still in his village, sending information to forces across the river and helping to coordinate attacks.

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“They are insane and can use this information to target,” Ivashchenko said. “If you want to put it somewhere, I don’t want to be in charge.”

Before the invasion, Ivashchenko was one of three people who helped run the village, which was once home to about 13,000 people. That population has now dwindled to 3,000, and the other two city leaders have not returned to the city, fearing for their lives. Now Ivashchenko was driving around the city, helping to distribute bags of food.

“When Kherson and the villages were liberated, there were signs that things opened up in Antonivka,” the mayor said. “But in the last five days the situation changed.”

Green Kherson resistance fighters undermined the Russian occupation forces

A crowd of dozens of people gathered at one of these humanitarian aid stations as the temperature dropped to near freezing. They could see their breath as they asked their neighbors for help to find food and water.

Residents there said they knew they were standing, defenseless, in the line of Russian fire. But they had no choice but to wait there, in the cold, for food.

Ilya Kobits, 74, said shrapnel was flying across her lawn. Meanwhile, the sky has become louder and louder.

He said the river is a huge natural boundary. He is not sure when — or how — Ukrainian forces will be able to push the Russians back further.

“It’s not going to happen anytime soon,” he said.

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