The US Secretary of Defense spoke to the Russian counterpart for the first time since February 18 and urged an “immediate ceasefire”.

The US Secretary of Defense spoke to the Russian counterpart for the first time since February 18 and urged an “immediate ceasefire”.

Ukrainian officials say there is a growing humanitarian crisis in the Russian-held Kherson region in the south of the country, with hundreds of civilians trying to flee the area every day and Russian troops raiding villages.

It’s difficult to get a true picture of what’s going on in Kherson as Ukrainian telecom companies have been blocked from operating and people are finding it harder to get in and out of the region.

Those attempting to leave are at significant risk.

Oleksandr Vilkul, head of Kryvyi Rih’s military administration, said Thursday Russian artillery fired on a column of civilian vehicles trying to leave the city of Beryslav in Kherson. He said there were about 5,000 people in total in the convoy.

Vilkul said the Russians stopped about 1,000 vehicles and only started releasing them in groups of 200 in the afternoon. Then they fired on one of the columns as it entered Ukrainian-occupied territory. Two people were injured, a woman and an 11-year-old boy. Both were taken to the hospital in Kryvyi Rih, Vilkul said.

Ukrainian officials estimate that up to 45% of the population left the Kherson region. Those still in the region are facing growing hardship, according to Ukrainian officials.

Yuri Sobolevsky, first deputy chairman of the Kherson Region Council, said on Ukrainian television that there was a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the city of Kherson.

“Our hospitals are running out of fuel and medicines and there is a problem with the food supply,” he said.

Food shortages and allegations of theft: Sobolievskyi said farmers and businesses were still trying to bring food to the city, and some volunteers were able to bring supplies from neighboring regions.

There were also volunteers who brought food and medicines from Mykolaiv and Odessa. “So we keep scratching,” he said.

He said a number of civilians had to accept food from the Russians to survive.

The Russians “just want to create a vacuum in the Kherson region, create a humanitarian catastrophe, and then fill it with their humanitarian aid. If we had humanitarian corridors, they couldn’t show that they were helping the population.”

Sobolievskyi also said that “the robbery of our peasants continues”.

“They steal not only grain, but also equipment; they just take it out, and then it floats to Crimea and the Russian Federation itself.” CNN has reported that thousands of tons of grain and millions of dollars worth of farm equipment were stolen in Kherson.

Services disrupted and violence documented: Serhii Khlan, a deputy in the Kherson regional council, said Thursday that Russian forces were raiding villages and conducting intensive searches, as well as conducting a census of those remaining in some areas.

Khlan also said the Russians have hinted at “importing teachers from Crimea because our teachers don’t agree to work on Russian programs. The few teachers who do agree to work – we know them personally – and they will be held criminally responsible for it.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said this week that Ukrainian authorities are documenting alleged Russian crimes in Kherson, including “violence against people, mass kidnappings, torture in basements, theft of property, attempts to create fictitious administrative structures.”

Resistance Status: Podolyak also said that “resistance to the Russian invasion of southern Ukraine is very strong at all levels.”

But there has been less evidence of street protests in Kherson in recent weeks than in March. On May 9, when the newly installed, Russia-backed government held Victory Day commemorations, no counter-protest was evident.

It is unclear whether this is due to the arrest of activists or because so many people have left the region. Sobolievskyi said there was a great risk to the life and health of people taking to the streets, acknowledging that the protests were smaller. This may also partly be due to the fact that people cannot connect through Ukrainian mobile operators.

Ukrainian officials say the military is enjoying “some victories” in destroying Russian ammunition depots and equipment in Kherson, but there has been little movement on the ground in recent weeks and new Russian convoys have been seen passing through Kherson in recent days Front drove lines in neighboring Zaporizhia. Aside from taking the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the Russians appear determined to separate Kherson from the rest of Ukraine.

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