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Ukrainian officials say there is a growing humanitarian crisis in the Russian-occupied region of Kherson 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’s going on in Kherson is difficult as the operations of Ukrainian telecom companies have been blocked and people are finding it more difficult to get in and out of the region.

Those who do try to leave face considerable risk.

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

Vilkul said the Russians had halted about 1,000 vehicles and only began to release them in the afternoon in batches of 200. They had then shelled one of the columns as it crossed into Ukrainian-held territory. Two people had been wounded, a woman and an 11-year old boy. Both were taken to hospital in Kryvyi Rih, Vilkul said.

Ukrainian officials estimate that as much as 45% of the population of Kherson region has left. Those still in the region are facing growing hardship, according to Ukrainian officials.

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

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

Food shortages and claims of stealing: Sobolievskyi said that farmers and businesses were still trying to provide the city with food and some volunteers were able to bring supplies from neighboring regions.

There were also volunteers bringing food and medicine from Mykolaiv and Odesa. “That’s how we scratch along,” he said.

He said a number of civilians had to accept food from the Russians 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 would not be able to show that they are helping the population.”

Sobolievskyi also said that “the robbery of our farmers continues.”

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

Services disrupted and violence documented: Serhii Khlan, a deputy on Kherson’s regional council, said Thursday that Russian forces were raiding villages and launching intensive searches, as well as carrying out a census of those left in some areas.

Khlan also said that the Russians have indicated “they will import teachers from the Crimea because our teachers do not agree to work on Russian programs. Those few teachers that agree to work — we know them personally — and they will be held 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 abductions, torture in basements, theft of property, attempts to create fictitious management structures.”

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

But there has been less evidence of street protests in Kherson recent weeks compared to their regular occurrence in March. On May 9, when the newly installed Russian-backed administration held Victory Day commemorations, there were no counter-protests evident.

It’s unclear whether this is due to the arrest of activists or because so many people have left the region. Sobolievskyi said that there was a great risk to the lives and health of people who came onto the streets and acknowledged the protests were smaller. It may also be in part because people are unable to connect through Ukrainian mobile operators.

Ukrainian officials say that the military is “enjoying 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 in recent days traveling through Kherson toward front lines in neighboring Zaporizhzhia. Beyond taking Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the Russians seem intent on separating Kherson from the rest of Ukraine.

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