The Ukrainian army prepares a humanitarian corridor to rescue Kherson from the Russian threat | International

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The question that military and civilians are asking today in southern Ukraine is when Russia will start bombing Kherson. They have little doubt that it will, even though, two days after being liberated, the city on the Dnieper River has yet to come under fire from the invader. Russian troops have fortified their positions on the eastern bank, just a kilometer from the urban core. From neighboring Mikolaiv, a humanitarian corridor is being prepared against the clock to help Kherson, now that this will be the zero line of the war on this part of the front, where the artillery of both sides will strike incessantly.

"We don't know what the Russian army will do, but most likely we and Odessa will receive a third wave of refugees from Kherson," says Dmitro Falko, secretary of the Mikolaiv municipal council - the second mayor of the City Council. In a meeting with EL PAÍS this Friday, in front of the ruins of a bombed-out hotel in the center, Falko indicates that the Ukrainian authorities do not even know what percentage of the population of Kherson is still in the municipality —the census prior to the invasion was close to 300,000 inhabitants—. The Ukrainian General Staff estimated last summer that at least half of its inhabitants had fled the city, but that the number will be higher because Russia has forced a massive evacuation in the last month that, as indicated at the time by the occupying authorities , was 60,000 people. The Ukrainian government denounces that thousands of these citizens have been displaced against their will to Russian territory or to Crimea, the peninsula occupied by Russia since 2014.

A spokesman for the High Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the South explained to this newspaper that the priority of its troops is to secure the perimeter in Kherson and after that, an aid corridor from Mikolaiv, through which they would access medical services, emergency material and food to get through the winter, in addition to equipment for repairing the electrical network, heating and mobile telephony. "We have a lot of desperate people from Kherson who want to return to their city and to the liberated areas, and it still can't be because first the area has to be cleared of mines," says Falko.

On Friday night, in front of the Odessa opera house, a hundred inhabitants of Kherson, refugees in the port capital of Ukraine, celebrated the Russian withdrawal. One of them was 26-year-old Igor Horianinov. He and his wife planned to return to his house in “one or two months”. Asked if he feared that Kherson would become uninhabitable if it was permanently bombarded, Horianinov assumed that this would happen, but that he would return anyway. Most of the group spoke in Russian, but in the presence of the journalist, some participants asked them to switch to Ukrainian: "Speak Russian, never again," shouted a young woman who had lost her home.

Relief in Mikolaiv

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In Mikolaiv and in the liberated towns of the province, the Russian withdrawal has been experienced with relief. The Ukrainian artillery will advance and that will reduce the risk of attacks in the region, admits Falko. Mikolaiv has been one of the cities hardest hit by Russian bombing. In the early hours of Thursday to Friday, two S-300 missiles hit a neighborhood community, an attack in which seven people died. Neither in the block of flats nor in its vicinity was there any military objective, as this newspaper was able to verify.

One of the residents of the attacked buildings, Larisa Alexenka, stated that she was happy with the news from Kherson, but feared that the missiles would continue to punish her city “by land, sea and air”. "The truth is that the Russians will not be much further from Mikolaiv, 65 kilometers away," added Falko. In the Alexenka apartment block, the windows have been left without glass, a serious setback in this cold season. This 70-year-old woman estimated that only 20% of her neighbors remain, the rest of her left the city in the early stages of the invasion, more than eight months ago.

Nikita Noshenko is 19 years old and does not want to lose his optimism. This resident of Mikolaiv is convinced that his city will no longer be a priority Russian objective, a conviction based, he concedes, on the need to cling to the future. Noshenko studies Naval Engineering at Admiral Makarov University, which supplies professionals to the Mikolaiv shipyards. The university building has been bombed twice, as have the shipyards. In these was built in the seventies the Moscowthe flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet, sunk last April by two Ukrainian missiles.

What is certain is that the Russian withdrawal from the western bank of the Dnieper will surely bring good news to Mikolaiv and its province, Falko advances: the river's water supply. Russian forces sabotaged last March the pipes that brought water from the river. "Since then we have received water from the Bug River estuary, but this is semi-salty, in addition to the fact that the salt is causing many breakdowns," explains the mayor of Mikolaiv: "In the city we say, joking, that we no longer have to go to Odessa to the beach because we have the sea in the faucet at home”. The army predicts that the Dnieper's water supply may be restored within a month. Falko also hopes that the movement of the front will allow rebuilding the train station, destroyed by Russian missiles.

Darkness descends on Mikolaiv as the sun sets, shortly before five in the afternoon. Public lighting is kept off as a security measure against Russian bombing. Volodymyr Golienko illuminates the engine of a taxi he is helping to repair with his phone. He lost his job with the start of the invasion and earns a few hryvnias with some odd jobs for friends. "They have destroyed my life," says this man who speaks in Russian; and in that language he swears that he hates Russia. Golienko also does not believe that the Moscow troops will leave Kherson alone: ​​"They are on the other side of the Dnieper, with enough ammunition to level the city."

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