Situation in Southern Ukraine: Kherson Region

October 27, 2022
On the situation in the occupied and liberated territories of the Kherson region and on the information space in the occupied South, UkraineWorld spoke to the director of the online Kherson news outlet Vgoru, Ilona Korotitsyna. Key points - in our brief.

1. On the situation in the de-occupied territories of Kherson region

  • People are extremely glad to be liberated. However, the humanitarian situation remains difficult. There is a great deal of destruction, and some villages have been almost completely destroyed. Utility systems have been shattered. Food is brought in by volunteers. They also bring building materials to help people repair damaged accommodations. Villages located close to the frontline are still suffering from shelling.
  • Lots of people who left their villages before liberation want to come back. However, not everyone is able to because their houses have been severely damaged or destroyed.
  • Some businesses have launched humanitarian initiatives. A Ukrainian postal operator is bringing Starlink terminals to de-occupied territories so that people can communicate. In some places, several Ukrainian mobile operators have restored mobile service. This is a significant event, because these people haven’t had Ukrainian Internet or mobile connection since the end of May.

2. On the situation in the occupied territories of Kherson Region

  • People are by and large not complying with the so-called evacuation being undertaken by the occupation administration. The aim of these actions by the occupiers could be a disguised deportation to Russia. It could also indicate preparations for provocations or propaganda campaigns by occupiers. There are no signs that the so-called evacuation is being conducted forcibly.
  • For now, local occupation authorities are luring people into going to Russia by offering them recreation, study opportunities, advanced job training, and evacuation, as well. There are people who are giving in to these manipulations because they’re scared, emotionally broken by the long occupation, and don't have access to truthful information.
  • There are signs that the occupiers are preparing provocations. Local social media accounts are spreading information about evacuation, the Ukrainian counter-offensive, and the beginning of the battle for Kherson, even though the Armed Forces of Ukraine aren’t taking active actions at the moment and are more focused on observation. A large number of Russian troops are concentrated in Kherson. Local mobile connection and the Internet have been jammed for some time. Electricity has been partially cut.
  • Similar situations with the preparation of provocations have been happening since March. The Russians spread information about the Ukrainian Army’s attacking certain areas, but they were in fact being shelled by the Russsians themselves. There have been cases when Russians brought their journalists to Kherson and shelled territories nearby to create a news story for journalists. Something similar is going on now, but they seem to be preparing a provocation on a larger scale.
  • In Ukrainian information space, the argument that Russians are preparing the information foundation for their retreat is circulating. It doesn’t seem to be true. Russian troops are numerous. They aren’t determined to leave Kherson, and they won’t leave it just like that.
  • Numerous cases of deportation and kidnapping have been documented. Community leaders, activists, and volunteers who were well-known in the media disappeared. Collaborators report people. The occupiers also conduct spontaneous searches, going to houses and apartments.
  • Occupiers force people out of their houses and commandeer their homes. They take food, fuel, and cars. There are numerous cases of beatings and detentions. They also coerce cooperation with blackmail.

3. On the level of organization of the occupiers

  • The occupational authority system is more organized than it was at the beginning. They were not able to establish their authority during the first two months. There was no understanding of what was to come. The Russian military came to the city, but didn’t understand what to do. Therefore, it was possible to hold rallies.
  • It was difficult for the Russians to establish their occupation administration. There weren’t enough personnel. They had none of their own officials for public administration, and the local ones mostly refused to cooperate. Incompetent people without experience in management positions were appointed to positions.
  • Now, the system of occupation authority is much more organized. There are administrations, local officials, and military police, but there’s still not enough personnel, and those who are there are mostly incompetent.

4. On the information space

  • Propaganda works best in the occupied territories. Russians knew exactly what they were doing with their information operations. First, they took television and radio. They set up their television broadcasting, set up a studio, and created their local Kherson TV channel. They made their own websites and Telegram channels. Their newspapers started to be printed throughout the region.
  • Among the main propagandist narratives being spread is the idea that Kherson is a historically Russian city, that Kherson has never been Ukrainian, that Kherson will be with Russia forever, that Russia will never leave the region, and that Ukraine has abandoned the people of Kherson.
  • Ukrainian print media was wiped out at the very beginning of occupation. There was access to Ukrainian online media as long as there was access to the Ukrainian internet. However, this access wasn’t stable because of Russian jamming. Everything was completely blocked on May 30. Mobile connection was cut off, and the Internet was reconnected to Russian providers. All Ukrainian and local pro-Ukrainian websites were blocked. It was only possible to access them only using VPN-services. But in time, all the well-known VPN-services were also blocked. Information from Ukraine is only available on Telegram channels.
  • There’s no access to mobile internet without Russian SIM cards, which can only be bought with a Russian passport. That’s why people either don’t have mobile internet or buy SIM cards from black marketeers (so that they don’t need a Russian passport).

This material was prepared with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation.

Ilona Korostitsyna, Director of the online Kherson news outlet Vgory