Russian assaults in Kherson increase as civilians evacuate, according to recent happenings. Nika Selivanova, who is 13 years old, made a heart shape with her hands as she waved goodbye to her best friend Inna, who was pressed up against the glass wall that separated the entrance hall of the Kherson train station from the waiting area.
They had just hugged, and tears were welling up in their eyes. Asia, a tan dachshund dog, was wrapped in a warm blanket and held by Nika. The girls didn't know when they would see each other again.
As Nika's family left Kherson knew where they would end up. For now, they were going to the city of Khmelnytskyi in the west, where they hoped to find help. Elena, Nika's mother, had had enough of living in Kherson for the past few days.
Before, they [Russian forces] shelled us seven to 10 times a day, now it's 70-80 times, all day long. It's too scary. I love Ukraine and my dear city, but we have to go.- Elena, one of the people evacuating from Kherson
Since Christmas Day, more than 400 people, including Elena and her three daughters, have left Kherson because the Russian military has been bombing the city much harder. On Tuesday, shells hit a hospital maternity ward. No one was hurt, but it has made people even more afraid.
Elena left by train as the Ukrainian government helped her get out of the region. Hundreds of people are leaving on their own. There is a line of terrified civilians in their cars at the checkpoint on the way out of Kherson.
When media personnel walked up to Iryna Antonenko's car to talk to her, she was crying. She said:
We can't take it anymore. The shelling is so intense. We stayed this whole time and thought it would pass and that we would be lucky. But a strike hit the house next to ours, and my father's home was also shelled.- Iryna Antonenko, who is also evacuating
She wanted to go to Kryvyi Rih, which is in the center of Ukraine and where she has a family.
People with their bags and suitcases entering a white bus as they flee Kherson
Last month, there was a lot of happiness in Kherson. The city was taken by Russian forces on the second day of the invasion. On November 11, it was set free. On Christmas Eve, there was a mortar attack near where many Ukrainians had gathered waving flags to celebrate being freed from Russian control. Eleven people were killed and dozens were hurt.
A social worker, a butcher, and a woman selling mobile Sim cards were among the people who died. They were all regular people who worked at or went to the city's central market.
The Ukrainian government says that 41 mortars hit the city of Kherson that day. The Russians are shooting from the left (east) bank of the Dnipro river, where they have retreated. The river has become a de facto frontline in the south of Ukraine.
Kherson is a strategic area that is often called the "gateway to Crimea." Many experts say that Russia is now in a defensive position because it has no choice. It's hard to see what they want to get out of hitting Kherson. In addition to mortar shells, the use of incendiary munitions has been seen, which send sparks of fire into the city with the goal of setting targets on fire.
It's also not clear if the Ukrainian military is trying to take back control of areas on the left bank of the river. There is almost never a break in the sound of mortar shells being fired here in the city.
A 56-year-old man, Serhii Breshun, was killed while he was sleeping. When a shell hit his house, it fell on him. The day after he died, his mother, Tamara, was looking for his passport in the rubble. She is 82 years old. She needed the paper to get the morgue to let her take his body out.
"I must have had a sense that something would go wrong that day. Because I spoke to him [over the phone] and urged him to leave the house. He didn't and that was it. Our lives have been ruined," she sobbed. The only way for the old mother to give her son a proper goodbye is to go to Kherson, which is not a safe place.
Tens of thousands of civilians still live in Kherson, but the regional government has told them at least twice this week to leave. It is a city where random attacks happen over and over again.