“Nowadays it’s not a cannon, it’s a machine gun,” said Anna, 78, from Nova Kakovka after arriving at a police checkpoint in Zaporizhia. “The windows shook, the house shook. We were afraid everything would collapse at any moment,” she said.
“The fighting is intensifying,” said Lyudmila, another woman waiting for her documents to be checked at a checkpoint in Zaporizhia. She, like Anna and the other newcomers, did not give her last name for fear of retribution against her marginalized relatives and friends.
“There was machine gun fire in a city park. I saw Russians running around the park with machine guns. ”
Since the fall of the city of Kherson, there have been several reports of raids by Ukrainian special forces across the Dnipro River.
Liudmila said the eastern highway from Nova Kakhovka to the Russian fortress in the town of Melitopol had been turned into a defensive line with concrete pyramids and a network of trenches known as “Dragon’s Teeth”.
Nova Kakovka is a particularly important strategic point, a pre-war town of 70,000 inhabitants, where Ukrainian and Russian forces now face each other across a narrow stretch of the Dnieper River and dam.
According to city residents, the Russian mined a 400-meter-long bridge over the dam, and his two trucks loaded with explosives was parked by the bridge. The control building of the adjacent hydroelectric power plant had turned into a fortress lined with weapons. Officials of the Russian occupation authorities left the city last month.
Since the city of Kherson and the northwestern part of Kherson Oblast fell to his November 11 Ukrainian counterattack, Russia has built a defensive perimeter south of Kherson and the Zaporizhia region.
The retreating forces that arrived in Nova Kakhovka in recent weeks were nervous and aggressive. Residents who remained, perhaps because they had elderly relatives who were unable to move, or because they hoped the city would be liberated sooner, decided to leave.
“They came to my house at seven o’clock in the morning. There was an armored car outside. They knocked on the door and told me to open it sooner,” said Anna. “They said they were looking for ‘bandits.’ They just looted other houses. They looted everything.”
The Russians suffered heavy losses at Nova Kakhovka in late July and early August when Ukraine rained down newly acquired US guided missiles on an army base on the banks of the Dnipro River. Afterward, locals said they saw the corpses of Russian soldiers piled up on military trucks and that the stench in the city became unbearable as the corpses had been burned in the forest.
“They had a dump in the back of the forest, but they just took the bodies there and burned them,” Anna said. “It smelled indescribable. They cremated the remains for a week. It was impossible to open doors or windows. ”
Oksana, who left Nova Kakhovka in mid-September, said she saw mountains of Russian deaths after Ukrainian missile attacks.
“There was a military ambulance of sorts. It was a covered truck, but it had a small hole in the cover and you could see bodies piled up,” she said.
“For a week after that day, there was smoke,” Oksana said. “You close the door, you close the window, and there was this stench that could not be confused with anything else.”
Witnesses did not see the bodies cremated and were unable to independently confirm their account. However, they repeated reports from the outskirts of the city of Kherson in November that Russians had burned the dead in the city’s landfill.
The last civilian border crossing along the Southern Front is near Vasilivka, a town on the Dnieper River about 50 km south of Zaporizhia. By the end of September, when Russia declared its annexation of her four regions of Ukraine, including Kherson and Zaporizhia, up to 6,000 people crossed daily, cars of civilians coming to the Ukrainian side to pick up arriving relatives. shelled the columns. From Russian-controlled territory.
The number of new arrivals has now dropped to 300 per day, according to Oleksiy Savitsky, a local government official who oversees a reception center for newly displaced people.
“I think it’s because they have to protect humans as human shields,” Savitsky said. “If everyone leaves, things will be easier for our army.”
Anna said she felt the Russians at Nova Kakhovka were unchallenged before the Ukrainians acquired US-made Himars multiple rocket launchers in July.
“They felt they were the rulers of the city,” she recalls. “They drank and said,
“It’s like a hideaway for us. We move here.”
After a rocket attack destroyed their riverside camp, they withdrew their heavy weapons into the woods and began digging trenches. After the fall of the city of Kherson, the size of the garrison increased dramatically, and recently tensions have risen. “Many of them are panicking because the Ukrainian army is too close,” Oksana said. “I feel they could hit the city at any moment.”
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