By Andrew Harding
(BBC News, Odesa) – More than a fortnight after falling under Russian occupation, the residents of Kherson are wrestling with acute shortages of medicine and holding daily protests against the Kremlin’s forces. They are also worried that increased shelling on the outskirts might signal the start of a Ukrainian push to recapture their southern city, which is a key port.
A series of loud explosions rattled the windows of Yuri Stelmashenko’s office in a government building in the centre of Kherson on Tuesday afternoon, as the city’s deputy mayor was on a phone call, busy explaining they had less than a week’s supply of food and medicine left.
“Can you hear the shelling outside? Not far off. Unfortunately, we’re having to get used to this terrifying reality,” said Stelmashenko calmly.
“We’re looking at a real humanitarian catastrophe here,” he said.
“We’ve been left here alone – there’s no other legitimate authority apart from the mayor. Russian officials came to our office and we agreed that we would continue working. But it’s not clear how long that will continue.”
There have been reports that Russia might stage a referendum in Kherson on independence from Ukraine – as they previously did in Crimea after it was annexed in 2014, as well in the Russian-backed separatist areas of Donetsk and Luhansk.
But Stelmashenko rejected the idea of this happening in his city, saying it was clear there was no support for Moscow’s actions among the largely Russian-speaking population.
Video footage showing a small pro-Russian demonstration in Kherson has been dismissed as a Kremlin propaganda stunt by locals.
On the streets nearby, there were queues for milk, and frustration in local pharmacies which have reportedly run out of most essential drugs.
“There’s no medicine left for people with heart conditions, or asthma. The hospitals are working but there’s just no medicine,” said a medic, speaking by telephone. She asked that we only use her first name, Galina.