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Ukraine war: Tales of endurance and hardship as winter looms
Published 11 hours ago
By Jeremy Bowen
BBC News, Ukraine

A man being treated in Bakhmut war hospital
Image caption, This man was being treated for shrapnel wounds


Piles of blood-stained stretchers stand ready outside the war hospital in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

Medics taking a break, and soldiers who have brought in wounded comrades, stand in the doorway smoking, listening to the incessant drum of heavy autumn rain, punctuated by sharp blasts and dull crumps of shellfire.

In the street outside are the burnt-out hulks of cars and vans. Broken glass and smashed masonry are piling up next to buildings that have been hit.

A couple of dogs, once family pets judging by their desire for human company, shrink into corners of the porch. One of them lies trembling, not interested in scraps of food offered by the soldiers.

Most of Bakhmut's civilians have long since moved to somewhere safer. The living creatures still there under fire share a certain solidarity. The dog, one of the exhausted-looking hospital staff explained, was traumatised by the sound of explosions.

On a journey from Bakhmut in Donbas in the east, to the other end of the front line in Kherson Oblast, it was clear that Ukrainians are tired, battered, locked into the debilitating routines of war, but still determined to fight the Russians to stay independent.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision in February to invade, to subdue a people he claims are the same as Russians, has sharpened their sense of nationhood.

The surgeon
One of the surgeons at the war hospital in Bakhmut, Volodymyr Pihulevsky, agreed to talk. He worked in emergency medicine in a civilian hospital until he was mobilised on 24 March.

We spoke in an improvised operating theatre, with two tables. It was clean and well supplied, but the monitors and resuscitation equipment in it were basic.

The hospital was quiet, as rain pelted down from low cloud that hung over Bakhmut - weather that usually reduces the volume of shelling. The theatre was not in use, so Volodymyr had time to talk.

"Fortunately, this morning, there are not so many wounded people. But there were days and even weeks when there were lots of wounded, including shrapnel wounds, traumatic leg amputations as a result of shelling or mine explosions, also bullet wounds.

"We have had to work 24 hours a day, even two days in a row without even a chance to sit down - we just stop for food, or the toilet."

Volodymyr Pihulevsky, a surgeon at a hospital in Bakhmut
Image caption, Surgeon Volodymyr Pihulevsky describes the work he has to carry out as "scary"


Volodymyr also takes his turn on the front line, giving immediate medical aid to the wounded.

"This was very difficult. Sometimes the choice is between risking your own life and the lives of wounded guys. I've never seen someone to be scared to die. No-one sits and waits even during the shelling. Everyone goes to take the wounded, to give them first aid. Then we put them in a car and bring them here.

"It is not as psychologically difficult as it is scary… only people with a mental illness don't have fear."

The surgeon said that in the war hospital they had to treat wounds that before the invasion they might see once or twice in a few years.

"Working in the emergency hospital, I saw many deaths. But that was in peacetime. Here I see how our boys fight. The wounds they receive ruin their lives. It depresses me more than anything else.

"It's terrible to see the pain of our soldiers. To see the trauma they get in this war. The most terrible thing is to see the suffering of our country. This is the most terrible. The rest is just our job."

A few minutes later a soldier walked in from an ambulance with a hand smashed by a sniper bullet. Another was carried in on a stretcher, soaked in mud and blood with multiple shrapnel wounds. Volodymyr walked rapidly to the triage area to get to work.

Anyone expecting the histrionics of emergency rooms in TV mini-series would be disappointed. Volodymyr and the medics in Bakhmut were calm, spoke quietly, and moved fast to stabilise the patients before more men were brought in from the front line.

The artilleryman
To get to the fighting means driving along tracks churned into deep mud in the endless farmland.

Our BBC team had permission to visit an artillery unit tucked away in a narrow stretch of woods in a valley. We promised not to say anything to reveal the location of their dugouts, other than the fact that their camp was on one of the Donbas front lines.

The constant soundtrack was shellfire - sometimes close, loud, sharp exchanges with the Russians, sometimes bass notes rumbling in from further down the long and active confrontation line.

The unit was armed with two BM-21 Grad missile launchers. The man in charge of one of them did not want to use his real name. Call me Lysyi, he said, a nickname that means "Bald".

Image caption, The artilleryman nicknamed Lysyi (R) says he is fond of the BM-21 Grad missile launcher, which is more than 50 years old

Before he signed a military contract in 2019, the artilleryman was a builder, who renovated apartments. Now he commands a highly destructive weapons system, whose designers in the Soviet Union in the late 1950s mounted an oblong array of 40 missile firing barrels on a powerful truck. The BM-21 is a tried and trusted killing machine. It can devastate an area of around a hectare (10,000 sq m) - in other words a large field of vehicles and troops.

Lysyi is in his early 30s. He supervised the loading and firing of the Grad like a man who had plenty of practice. It is not high tech. His crew screwed the fuses on to the front of the missiles by hand and tightened a small fastening to keep them in place. Then they manhandled the missiles into the barrels. When one of them failed to click into place, Lysyi gave it a shove with his insulated, knee-high Wellington boot. All the men wore them, as the autumn mud is so deep and viscous.

The artilleryman was matter-of-fact about his life since the invasion.

"I was woken up at 4:20am February 24th. Since then, I've been fighting. It's the same as it was at the beginning. It is very monotonous. We move from place to place.

"What do I do? We go and launch shells at the targets that they give us. We are fighting. No-one said this was going to be easy. But we manage."

The unit's two BM-21 launchers are both parked in scrapes bulldozed out of the hillside. They don't fire from their camp.

When the target co-ordinates came through, the truck and its missiles were driven out of the scrape, a green monster emerging from liquid mud that went halfway up its huge tyres. The Grad lumbered through more mud to a wide-open field on higher ground, that looked badly exposed and felt it when Russian shells started landing.

Lysyi and his men worked fast, ignoring the impacts about a hundred yards (91 metres) away, and let loose two volleys of missiles. Then they have to pack up and move fast before the Russians hit their position with counter battery fire. I could see the smoke and flame as a couple more Russian shells detonated.

Our Hyundai 4x4, defeated by the struggle to follow the huge BM-21 through the thick mud, would not start. At least the mud absorbed some of the force of the incoming shells. Before the Russian gunners could find their range, Lysyi and his men stopped so we could hop aboard their BM-21. They took us back to a safer place, then they went back to rescue the 4x4 and its driver, who had stayed under fire trying to start it.

Off-road vehicles, even ones that might have spent earlier, peacetime lives on the school run, are in short supply in Ukraine.

Back at the camp, Lysyi said they would like more modern equipment, but he had a grudging affection for the ancient Grad BM-21.

"My truck is 52 or 53 years old. We repair it on our own, give her a second life, because it's our lives at stake."

What about the operation we had just seen, launching missiles under fire, and driving in a vehicle more than half a century old over a field clogged with mud as more shells landed?

"Of course, everyone is scared. But we overcome our fear and go fight. There was shelling. Nothing dramatic. We escaped the shelling. Our 'old lady' helped us. We escaped."

Map shows the cities and villages of Soledar, Bakhmut, Kramatorsk, Dnipro, Kryvyi Rih and Myroliubivka in eastern and central Ukraine

The teacher
Liudmyla Mymrykova loves her home village. It is mostly in ruins now, but it is easy to see how before the war Myroliubivka must have been a peaceful oasis in the farmland around the city of Kherson. All the houses have their own land. Wild birds perch on the woodpiles, in search of insects. Ducks, chickens and geese wander through the overgrown gardens of owners who fled months ago.

Ukrainian soldiers, who recaptured the village in September as they started their push towards Kherson, have taken over the few houses that have intact walls and roofs. One of them is Liudmyla's, with neat rows of fruit trees and roses that need pruning.

I met her in a safer city nearly two hours away, in a tiny house lent to her by relatives. As her great-grandson Anatoly, almost a toddler, gurgled and played in the room next door, Liudmyla told me how she longs to go home, and how her beloved village descended into hell when the Russians captured it in March. How she survived months of terror, and how she was beaten, cut and raped in her own living room.

Liudmyla (right) with her daughter Olha
Image caption, Liudmyla (R), with daughter Olha, says she did not think she would survive the night a Russian soldier entered her home


Liudmyla is a composed woman of 75, a widow who was a teacher until she retired, and well known locally as the village's historian. At the start of the year she did not believe that President Putin would order his men deeper into Ukraine, with such brutal consequences.

"We considered them to be a fraternal nation. I couldn't imagine [they] could do things like that to people."

The Russians arrived on 24 March. The first ones, Liudmyla said, came through Crimea, and behaved well. Often in wars frontline soldiers are more disciplined than rear echelon troops who follow them.

The worst came from the east, from militias raised in the separatist, pro-Moscow Ukrainian regimes in Luhansk and Donetsk. They terrorised the village, demanding vodka and wine, stealing cars and fuel and looting houses. The militiamen took men away in hoods, and tortured them - in at least one case until he died.

Liudmyla says that the Russian troops, who were frightening enough, "did not consider the militiamen to be human". The supposed allies fell out, drunkenly brawling with each other, and even exchanging gunfire.

A month into the occupation, Liudmyla had the chance to leave with her daughter Olha for territory held by the Ukrainians. But she refused Olha's pleas for her to get to safety, because she was hoping to safeguard her property, and especially the collection of documents she had assembled about the history of her village and her family.

Once Olha and a close friend who lived nearby had left, Liudmyla was alone, always scared, taking medication for high blood pressure but finding the strength to navigate her way through long, lonely days. Her dogs would bark when strangers approached. Then, on the night of 13 July: "At half past eleven I heard a very loud knock at my window.

"My body stiffened. Who could it be? My face, my body, my legs, my arms felt paralysed. I closed all the windows, but one of them was still a little open. I saw a soldier there. I hesitated about letting him in. What should I do? I didn't have anything to hit him. Would I be able to cope with him?

"When I opened the door, he immediately punched me in the face. He knocked out two of my teeth and broke my nose. I was covered with blood. He started beating me in the chest with the butt of his rifle. He hit my body. He started hitting me on the head. I didn't understand what I'd done wrong.

"He pulled my hair. And since it was dark in the kitchen, he couldn't see where he was, and he staggered around the furniture, then threw me onto the sofa and began to strangle me. I could not swallow water for two weeks.

"Then he took off my clothes and raped me. He cut my stomach. Until now, I have scars on my stomach. The deep ones still haven't healed, the smaller cuts have healed."

Image caption, Liudmyla Mymrykova kept the bullet dropped by the Russian soldier who attacked her at her home


Liudmyla recognised the man, who was aged around 60 and stank of alcohol. He was, she thinks, from a separatist militia. He had already been to her house, stealing diesel, then bringing soldiers who had stayed there until she persuaded them to leave.

The rapist demanded tobacco and beat her again with his gun when she did not have any. He opened fire, spraying bullets around the room. Liudmyla expected to die. She thought of her family.

"I said goodbye to my children, my grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, I never thought I would stay alive."

He did not leave, she says, until 05:20 the next morning, telling her that if she reported what had happened to the Russians, he would come back to kill her. She stayed with neighbours, explaining away her injuries by pretending that she had fallen into the cellar.

On the phone, the strain in Luidmyla's voice told her daughter Olha that something terrible had happened. She pressed her mother, and in the end it was a relief for Luidmyla not to have to hide the attack.

Four days after the rape, she joined other Ukrainians who managed to get to a local town, still occupied by the Russians but away from her attacker, and from there managed to cross the front line to re-join her daughter and family.

In the kitchen of her borrowed house, sitting next to Olha, who is also a widow, Liudmyla Mymrykova explained why she wanted to talk about her ordeal. It was the only time in an interview that lasted around an hour that her eyes filled with tears. In her hand she held a bullet that, she said, the man had dropped before he left her house.

"I want to shout to the whole world to stop all this, to stop this bloody war as soon as possible. I want Russians to know how their husbands, their sons, their parents are torturing Ukrainians. How are we guilty? We are hardworking, peaceful people. We don't disturb anyone."

I asked Liudmyla how she kept going when she had been through hell.

"How do I stay strong? The love of my land, and my native village, and my people. We're peaceful and hardworking in our village and supported each other during the occupation. They shared the last piece of bread. A lot of people were starving. We ground wheat seeds that had sprouted in a coffee grinder and baked cakes, because there was nothing to eat.

"This was a horror, this was simply a horror," she said.

"Putin and the Russians will never be forgiven until the end of their world… for what they did to the Ukrainians. There will be no forgiveness."
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Russians said they’d take my baby: A medic’s story
Published 12 hours ago
By Ben Tobias
BBC News

Mariana with her baby

Late one night in early April, Ukrainian military medic Mariana Mamonova was travelling towards a combat position in Mariupol, south-east Ukraine, with soldiers from her unit.

The fighting was close; the sound of gunfire and bombs came from every direction. One of them could have hit their vehicle at any moment. It was freezing and pitch dark, but at times the sky lit up with what looked like phosphorous weapons, illuminating the road ahead.

Mariana had been serving on the front line in Mariupol since the war began in February, but now the stakes were even higher than usual - she had discovered she was pregnant two weeks earlier.

The city was besieged by Russian forces, bombarded day and night, targeted relentlessly and indiscriminately with Russian missiles.

Her battalion was stationed at the Illich steel plant - one of the city's last Ukrainian holdouts. But the Russians were closing in, and travelling any distance from base meant risking death or capture.

With no safe way of escaping the front line, Mariana had little choice but to stay with her unit despite her pregnancy, and hope for the best for her and her baby. But she was unlucky.

"Our car was stopped and we were told: 'from this moment on you are prisoners of the Russian Federation'," she told the BBC. "'A step to the right, or a step to the left, and we shoot,' they said.

"I turned to the guys I was with and said 'tell me we're not being captured. Tell me they're not taking us prisoner!' I was so scared."

But her worst fears had become reality.

Mariana and her colleagues were transferred to a storage warehouse for three days before being taken to the Olenivka prison in the occupied part of eastern Ukraine.

The facility, notorious for its squalid conditions, abusive staff and chronically overcrowded rooms, was the site of a rocket attack that killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war. Both sides blame the attack on each other.

For Mariana, it was the start of a six-month ordeal during which she slept on the floor and was deprived of access to healthy food and fresh air. She was intimidated and threatened during interrogations and at one point prevented from using the toilet while nine-months pregnant. She was also terrified her baby would be born in captivity and taken from her.

Screenshot of video of prisoners with faces blurred
Image caption,
Mariana was taken to a warehouse where she appeared in a video of prisoners published on social media

Soon after she was captured, she was questioned by a Russian official.

"He said if I don't answer the way he needs me to, he'll send me to a camp in Russia and my baby will be taken away," Mariana said.

Her interrogator threatened to ensure that her child was transferred from one orphanage to another, making it impossible to ever track down.

"It was really terrible, I cried so much," she said quietly.

At other times, barking dogs were used to intimidate Mariana into making false statements.

Throughout her ordeal, Mariana's medical training gave her reassurance that her pregnancy was developing normally. But conditions in the prison were poor.

"We lived in a small room meant for six people, but there were 40 women in there," she said.

"The older women slept two or three in a bunk. I slept on the floor, underneath a bed with a friend. I had a couple of pillows and a blanket."

Later, Mariana was transferred to a smaller room where she slept on a wooden pallet on the floor.

For the first few months, she was treated exactly the same as all the other female prisoners. But when she was seven-months pregnant, a doctor advised that she needed more fresh air and she was allowed to walk around the yard.

"It depended on which guard was on shift though," she said. "Sometimes I could spend half a day outside, other times they didn't let me out at all."

In July, she developed a complication and was taken to hospital for an ultrasound. It was Mariana's first glimpse of her baby.

"I saw its little arms and legs. It unfurled its fist and showed me its five little fingers. I cried and cried. They told me the baby was fine, but it was very small and I need to eat more and take more vitamins."

When she returned to the prison, some guards took pity on her and brought her home-cooked food and vitamins.

Mariana with husband Vasyl and baby
Image caption,
Mariana's husband, Vasyl, campaigned for her release

As Mariana entered the final weeks of her pregnancy, there was talk of a prisoner swap but still no sign of it happening.

Her husband Vasyl, frustrated at a perceived lack of urgency from the Ukrainian government in negotiating her release, appealed for her to be freed on humanitarian grounds.

"A mother and her children are sacred everywhere... Let them free her," he told the BBC just days before her release.

Mariana was transferred to a maternity ward in Donetsk where she was treated well, but the threat of being separated from her baby remained.

Two possibilities emerged; either Mariana would be sent to a prison in Donetsk where she could live with her baby for as long as she was breastfeeding. Or she would be taken to a facility in Russia where her baby would be taken from her when it turned three. She was too scared to ask where her child would go in either scenario.

Mariana felt that an exchange was her last hope. But one Friday in September, she received the news she had been dreading.

"They told me the exchange was off. The situation on the frontline had intensified, and the two sides couldn't agree. I understood it was the end," Mariana said. By then she could have given birth any day.

But over the weekend, something changed. Mariana doesn't know why but all of a sudden the swap was given the green light.

Mariana seen heavily pregnant during exchange of prisoners
Image caption,
Mariana appeared heavily pregnant in a video of the prisoner exchange

The following Tuesday, she was transferred with dozens of other prisoners to a city in Russia near the Ukrainian border. There, she was blindfolded, her hands tied, and put on a military plane with other prisoners to a location in Belarus.

The journey took 20 hours but the Russian soldiers guarding Mariana refused to let her use the toilet, despite her being nine-months pregnant.

"'Use this bottle,' they joked. I told them 'I won't be able to get it in' and 'I'm in pain'. But they just told me to hold it in," Mariana said with a resigned laugh.

From Belarus she was driven the short distance across to the border to Ukraine, and she was back in the relative safety of her homeland.

Just four days later, Mariana gave birth to a healthy baby girl called Anna. She weighed 3.2kg (7lb) - within the normal range.

As for the future, Mariana would like to continue working in medicine, but her husband has made his views clear.

"He says he won't cope if I go back to the front line," she laughs. "He said he'd leave me." For now, the couple are content adapting to their new life as a family.

"I already got used to the fact that I have a little baby, who has completely changed my life," she said. "I even had time to get used to the idea of being a mum. It's just unfortunate that I had to do that in prison."

Baby Anna
Image caption,
Anna was born just four days after Mariana was released
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Cheers in Kherson, Russian woes and a superyacht - Ukraine round-up
Published 1 day ago
By Phelan Chatterjee
BBC News

Young people celebrating with Ukrainian flags
Image caption, People in Kyiv gathered to celebrate the retreat of Russian forces from Kherson


There was jubilation as Ukrainian soldiers arrived in the key southern city of Kherson, and Russia announced it had fully withdrawn.

Ukraine's national flag was seen flying on the streets and local residents chanted as Kyiv's troops arrived.

"Our people. Ours. Kherson," President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Telegram, hailing the "historic" day and pledging to recapture all of occupied Ukraine.

"Everyone is crying since this morning," said local resident Alexei Sandakov.

Kherson was the only regional capital taken by Russia after February's invasion.

The city fully returning to Ukrainian hands will represent a hugely consequential moment on the war, our diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams writes.

He says the loss of Kherson is on a par with Moscow's humiliating withdrawal from its positions outside the capital Kyiv earlier this year.

Putin can't escape Kherson fallout
Vladimir Putin speaks to crowds in Moscow, with the words "Together forever" at the top of the screen.
Image caption, Vladimir Putin celebrated his declared annexation of occupied Ukrainian regions in September

Meanwhile, Russian TV saw grim-faced presenters announcing the army's "difficult decision" to withdraw forces from Kherson.

Just six weeks ago, President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed the region alongside three other Ukrainian territories, and insisted they would be part of Russia forever.

One pro-war military blogger described the pullback as "a massive geopolitical defeat for Putin and Russia".

Our Russia editor, Steve Rosenberg, writes that the Kremlin has been trying hard to distance the president from the retreat, knowing many will see it as a blow to Russian prestige.

But that won't be easy, he says - after all, it was Mr Putin who ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

The capture of a Russian superyacht
Image caption, FBI agents said the Amadea "looked like a luxury yacht that was on a high-speed chase across the Pacific"

A US taskforce set up to seize Russian oligarchs' "ill-begotten gains" has captured a $325m (£307m) yacht.

The Amadea is roughly the length of a football pitch, with a helipad at one end and a 10-metre infinity pool at the other. Inside, there is a gym, beauty salon, cinema and wine cellar.

US investigators say it belongs to Russian billionaire senator Suleiman Kerimov - but he denies the claims.

There is a complex process behind tracking down the true ownership of superyachts.

Russia's alternate digital reality
A graphic comparing Yandex search results carried out as if in Russia with Google search results carried out as if in the UK on the Ukrainian town of Bucha
Image caption,
Yandex results about the killings of civilians in Bucha as if based in Russia (left) featured blog posts denying Russia is to blame, while Google's results in the UK spoke of evidence of atrocities

For a long time, the internet was the main space for alternative sources of information in Russia - with the Kremlin keeping a tight grip on TV media.

But in the first six months of the Ukraine war, Russian digital rights watchdog Roskomsvoboda estimates nearly 7,000 sites were blocked, including independent media and human rights groups.

BBC Monitoring has looked into what people in Russia see when they search the web now.

The experiment reveals an alternative reality dominated by Russian propaganda about the war.
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Please use a VPN to access this if you need to. It shows how life was in Kherson through the occupation:
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Ukraine war: Hope returns to Kherson after Russian forces leave
Published 2 days ago
By James Waterhouse
BBC Ukraine correspondent in Kherson

Kherson residents queue for donated packets of chicken from another region.
Image caption, Kherson residents queue for donated packets of chicken from another region

In the week since Russia pulled out of the southern city of Kherson, visceral relief has been replaced with an optimistic busyness.

As an acoustic band plays Western covers, queues of people snake around the city's main square.

There are tents where residents can get a hot drink or first aid. Many gather at mobile phone masts like bees around honey.

"We're calm now," Kostiantyn tells me as he queues for food donations with his daughter on his shoulders. "No water or power is fine."

The port city was captured by Russia in March, just days after forces invaded Ukraine. It was the only regional capital Russia managed to seize since February, but its military was forced to withdraw last week.

Russian soldiers used to threaten Kostiantyn Belitskyi’s family with their weapons.
Image caption, Russian soldiers used to threaten Kostiantyn Belitskyi’s family with their weapons

Also happy to chat was Olena, who admits to getting used to the Russian occupation.

"Ukrainian forces make us calm," she says.

"Now we can tell who is shelling and from where. If it's the Ukrainians that makes us happy, we're free now."

Olena Hatylo says she was collecting food donations for her disabled neighbours
Image caption, Olena Hatylo says she was collecting food donations for her disabled neighbours

"We have no light, no water but we have freedom!" exclaims Hryhorii Mykolayovych, who works in his local community kitchen.

He's frying sliced courgette over a log stove outside a block of flats.

After I ask him how he is, he takes a deep swallow and says: "The shelling is a bit of a problem, but things will get better. All of this is temporary."

The region's deputy governor hopes so too. Yaroslav Yanushevych says his priority is "making everyone feel safer". He also wants every Russian collaborator to be "punished".

In a picture of "cause and effect", bread is handed out under pro-Moscow billboards which read "Together with Russia".
In a picture of "cause and effect", bread is handed out under pro-Moscow billboards which read "Together with Russia".

They were plastered across the city by Russian occupiers. Most have been torn down, but not all.

These humanitarian efforts are being gratefully received. It's clear they're desperately needed after Kherson was cut off by Russia's grasp for eight months.

However, for the estimated 75,000 people who chose to stay in Kherson, a lot more is needed for this city to get back on its feet.

It is, though, slowly reconnecting with Ukraine.

Lorries instead of tanks now move into the city along damaged roads. Train services between Kyiv and Kherson have also resumed.

While there is relief Kherson wasn't destroyed like other occupied cities, such as Mariupol, no one is thinking the danger has gone away.

Russian-occupied territory in the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.
Image caption,
Russian-occupied territory in the eastern bank of the Dnipro River

The sandy banks of the Dnipro River in Kherson are now the front line in this part of Ukraine.

Six hundred metres across is territory occupied by Russia. The thuds of artillery and whistling shells overhead illustrate how dangerous this part of the city has become.

Despite its appearance, this boundary is far from clear. In pulling out, the Russians left thousands of soldiers and collaborators behind.

It's also not clear whether Ukraine's counteroffensives will stop here, despite winter being round the corner.

For Kherson, liberation has not brought calm. But for the majority, it is "better than before".

Additional reporting by Daria Sipigina and Alex Milner.
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Millions of lives under threat in Ukraine this winter - WHO
Published 1 day ago
By George Wright in London and Catherine Byaruhanga in Kyiv
BBC News

A woman carries the child after the snowfall as daily life continues in Borodianka
Image caption, Temperatures are predicted to plummet as low as -20C in Ukraine this winter

The lives of millions will be under threat in Ukraine this winter, the World Health Organization has said.

Half of Ukraine's energy infrastructure is either damaged or destroyed, and 10 million are currently without power, said Dr Hans Henri P Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe.

Temperatures are predicted to plummet as low as -20C (-4F) in some areas.

The WHO has documented 703 attacks on health infrastructure since Russia's invasion began.

Last week, Russia hit more energy installations and civilian buildings in one of its heaviest aerial bombardments of the war.

This has been a recent Russian tactic following setbacks on the battlefield, and its impact is starting to be felt more acutely as winter sets in.

"Put simply, this winter will be about survival," Dr Kluge told a news conference in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

Ukraine's health system is "facing its darkest days in the war so far", and the best solution is for the conflict to end, he added.

Dr Kluge said hundreds of hospitals and healthcare facilities were "no longer fully operational, lacking fuel, water and electricity to meet basic needs" as a result of attacks. The WHO defines an attack as involving violence as well as threatened violence against hospitals, ambulance and medical supplies.

Maternity wards need incubators, blood banks need refrigerators and intensive care beds need ventilators, Dr Kluge said, adding that "all require energy".

Up to three million people could flee their homes in search of warmth and safety, the WHO says.

Dr Hans Henri P Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe
Image caption,
"Put simply, this winter will be about survival," Dr Kluge told a press conference in Kyiv

Dr Kluge said he was "very concerned" for 17,000 HIV patients in Donetsk "who may soon run out of critical antiretroviral drugs that help keep them alive".

Much of Donetsk is under Russian control and Dr Kluge said he was "urgently calling for the creation of a humanitarian health corridor into all newly regained and occupied areas".

There are also concerns about Covid cases rising.

"With low basic vaccination rates - let alone boosters - millions of Ukrainians have waning or no immunity to Covid," Dr Kluge said.

The warnings come as snow has fallen across Ukraine and temperatures have dropped below freezing.

In Kyiv, snow covers walkways, empty playgrounds and park benches. Few people are on the streets.

Image caption,
Kyiv is covered in snow, and temperatures will drop further

Despite the snow, winter has not officially started and temperatures are likely to drop much further.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which used to produce more than 25% of Ukraine's electricity, no longer generates power.

There was renewed shelling at the plant over the weekend.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, condemned the attacks, saying it was another "close call" at Europe's biggest nuclear power plant.

IAEA experts toured the site on Monday, and the agency said they found widespread damage, but that there were no immediate nuclear safety or security concerns.

Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of carrying out the attacks.

Elsewhere in the war, Ukrainian prosecutors have given details of what they have found in four alleged torture chambers in Kherson after Russian troops left the southern city.

They say people were "brutally tortured", and that batons, bullets and an electrocution device were discovered.

Last week, Ukraine said it had found the bodies of 63 civilians bearing signs of torture near Kherson. The BBC also spoke to two people who said they had been held for more than a month in "torture chambers".

Russia denies committing abuses during its invasion.
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Ukraine war: Zelensky denounces Russian 'terror' in UN address
Published 20 hours ago

Fire and rescue workers attend a building hit by a missile in central Kyiv
Image caption, Fire and rescue workers attend a building hit by a missile in central Kyiv


President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of "crimes against humanity" after a new missile barrage caused blackouts across Ukraine.

He told the UN Security Council via videolink that the Russian "formula of terror" had forced "millions of people to stay without energy supplies, without heating, without water" in sub-zero cold.

The strikes killed at least seven people, Ukraine said.

Nuclear power plants went off-line.

The three plants still under Ukrainian control were disconnected from the grid and the Zaporizhzhia plant - Europe's largest - was forced again to rely on diesel generators to power its cooling systems and key safety equipment.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has voiced great concern about the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia plant, which has suffered damage from repeated shelling.

Neighbouring Moldova also experienced massive blackouts on Wednesday, but was not directly hit.

With winter setting in, Moscow has stepped up strikes on Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

Officials say Russia's missile strikes on power stations have caused "colossal" damage and left more than half of the country's grid in need of repair.

Lviv in blackout, 23 Nov 22
Image caption,
A power cut plunged Lviv in western Ukraine into darkness


Late on Wednesday Mr Zelensky said the situation in Kyiv remained "very difficult" and efforts would continue through the night to restore electricity.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least 80% of the capital's residents had no power or running water.

But Mr Zelensky said some other cities hit by Russian missiles had managed to restore power, including Lviv, Odesa and Cherkasy.

'Cowardly and inhumane'
The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was "weaponising winter" to inflict immense suffering.

"Having struggled on the battlefield, Moscow is now adopting a cowardly and inhumane strategy that punishes Ukrainian men, women and children," she said.

In the southern Zaporizhzhia region, a newborn baby was killed when a missile hit a maternity unit, emergency services said.

General Valeriy Zaluzhniy - the commander of Ukraine's armed forces - said 67 cruise missiles were launched by Moscow, with air defences successfully intercepting 51.

Russia also deployed attack drones again, Ukraine's military said.

Media caption, Watch: Grandmother mourns newborn baby killed in Russian missile strike

Most of Ukraine's thermal and hydro-electric power plants were also forced to shut down, the energy ministry said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not comment on the attacks during a visit to the Armenian capital Yerevan, but stated that the "future and success of the special operation" - Moscow's term for its war in Ukraine - "are beyond doubt".

Moscow has said that attacking Ukraine's power grid could weaken Kyiv's ability to fight and drive its leaders to the negotiating table.

Kyiv requested the UN Security Council meeting, and Mr Zelensky urged the UN to do more to help Ukraine.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that Russia's strikes against civilian infrastructure constituted a war crime, following similar comments from the US.

Earlier the European Parliament designated Russia a "state sponsor of terrorism" over its attack on Ukraine.

Soon after the parliament resolution was passed the Strasbourg assembly's website went down, because of what EU officials described as a denial-of-service attack by "pro-Kremlin" hackers.

Blackouts in Moldova
More than half of Moldova was left without electricity, deputy prime minister Andrei Spinu wrote on Twitter. He said the attack on Ukraine's energy infrastructure had caused a "massive blackout".

Within a few hours power was restored in much of the capital, Chisinau, where a third of the Moldovan population lives.

Moldova also experienced widespread power cuts as a result of strikes on Ukraine on 15 November, Mr Spinu said. Mobile networks were also badly affected.

Energy policy analyst Sergiu Tofilat said that as Moldova and Ukraine were connected to the European grid in March, one of the connection points on the power line between Moldova and neighbouring Romania shut down automatically if Ukraine was hit to protect the system: "We reconnect once Ukraine has assessed the damage."

In response to the outages, Moldovan President Maia Sandu said Russia had "left Moldova in the dark".

"Russia's war in Ukraine kills people, destroys residential blocks and energy infrastructure with missiles," she wrote on Facebook. "But the electricity supply can be restored. We will solve the technical problems and we will have light again. All state institutions are working in this direction."
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