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Ukraine Diary: Retreating Russia Leaves Kherson Shell-shocked

Kherson wrecked: The Russian plan for Kherson is fast becoming clear, and it’s a grim clarity that is emerging. They vacate Kherson city — this was the great Russian surrender, the big Ukrainian victory. Residents came out to celebrate, all of Ukraine was triumphant, the President came visiting symbolically. But the Russian plan was that they would make the city unlivable. It’s been bombarded continuously from across the Dnieper river — the whole city is within easy shelling distance. People have been killed, homes destroyed, power generation stations destroyed.

Whole convoys are now carrying people out of the city. Families are struggling to keep their children warm as they leave. They leave a war zone behind, and Kherson’s homes lie mostly abandoned. The railway service to Kherson was resumed but only to now serve to take its residents away.

It’s been a particular struggle to get the elderly out of Kherson. They are the ones most reluctant to leave, and in most need to. They have been given essential supplies, but it will be hard to sustain that through the winter. Leaving home is not easy. People are being moved out before the worst of the winter hits. The liberation of Kherson was a success but not a success many are around to celebrate. Earlier the Russians would not let people leave, now they won’t let them live.

Jolted to a stop: ArcelorMittal, the largest steel company in Ukraine, has suspended operations after the latest round of missile attacks on November 23. The steel company has been the backbone of Ukraine’s industrial strength, with close to five million tonnes of steel production at peak, with a workforce of 26,000.

The latest strikes mean that the plant could not produce at even 20 per cent, and most production has since been halted. This was after the attacks knocked out the power supply to the plant, which is less than 50 km from the Russian border. The plant managers say they will resume production after the restoration of the electricity supply, but we’ve been seeing Russian missile attacks every week or two. The plant, as it happens to be in Zenensky’s hometown, has been targeted again and again, and production disrupted since March of this year.

Laxmi Mittal bought the plant in 2005 for about five billion dollars and spent another five billion dollars on modernising it. At peak, it produced close to five million tonnes of steel a year. The Russian invasion has knocked out most of its production. Loss of port access has meant that production cannot be transported. The knock-on effects are impacting, inevitably, Ukraine’s defence production as well.

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