Because of its strategic location near Crimea, Kherson was the major first city to fall to Russian occupation and remains occupied to this day. An important port in southern Ukraine on the Black Sea, Kherson had a population of about 350,000 before the war. Today, over 60 percent of the residents are estimated to have fled the city.
It is difficult to overestimate the desperation that has gripped Kherson since the occupation on March 1. Hundreds of civilians have been killed. Survivors find themselves trapped. The city is cut off from supplies. The Ukrainian currency has been replaced with Russian ruble. The local post office was shut down, keeping residents from accessing their pensions. Many stores and pharmacies have closed and grocery shelves are empty. Residents have experienced looting, kidnapping, torture and rape under Russian occupation. Humanitarian assistance in the city is only allowed from the Russian military, and many people in Kherson refuse to accept it.
In the months since, local volunteers have played a vital role in helping those in most dire need. Thanks to your support and the bravery of volunteers on the ground, Nova Ukraine has provided crucial aid to the Kherson residents. Since April, 7,240 people have been helped with 1,853 food packages. Twenty-two drivers in 11 vehicles have driven 31 danger-filled trips between Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
“The support provided to Ukrainians in Kherson is critical,” said one of our volunteers. “Every day of life under occupation robs us of hope a bit more. But we have come to understand that we’re not alone. The civilized world cares about us and wants to protect freedom and democracy. Every little bit of help goes a long way. Every package delivered to us makes a big difference for the people of Kherson. Please, don’t ever abandon us.”
A distribution hotline helps match the need with available resources. Priority is given to orphaned children, families with adopted children, the elderly and disabled, and displaced people from the Kherson region where active fighting is taking place.
In addition to providing humanitarian assistance, volunteers also evacuate residents on their way back from Kherson to Zaporizhzhia. To do that, volunteers put their lives on the line. Last month, our local partner Mysto City reported that a volunteer who helped evacuate more than 100 people was killed by a Russian sniper during an evacuation. A local businessman before the war, 43-year-old Anton Kushnir was driving at the head of an evacuation column of cars when a sniper took his life. He leaves behind a wife and 4 children.
To provide aid for Kherson, our team is working closely with a small group of volunteers and local organizations, most of which remain anonymous for safety reasons. Providing help involves navigating logistical corridors controlled by the Russian military. Only 30 vehicles a day are allowed to enter the Kherson region from the Ukrainian side. During each transport, volunteers have to drive through more than 20 checkpoints set by the Russian militaries on the way from Zaporizhzhia to Kherson. At multiple checkpoints, volunteers are stopped and forced to unload the supplies for inspection – which often results in Russian troops stealing supplies and delaying the delivery of humanitarian aid. At least 10 more deliveries from Zaporizhzhia to Kherson are pending.
“Kherson is Ukraine. Many citizens are waiting for their beloved city to be returned to Ukraine,” says Yulia Zimmermann, a San Francisco based volunteer with Nova Ukraine who hails from Mykolaiv, just 50 kilometers from Kherson.
“We are here to support them. But we cannot do it without your continuous support. Help us to give people hope. Lend a hand to Ukrainians under occupation. Show them you will never let them down.”