Russian forces shelled the flood-stricken city of Kherson on Thursday, striking close to an evacuation point, only hours after President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the city to witness the aftermath of the destruction of a dam on the Dnipro River earlier this week.
Hundreds of people who were gathered near an evacuation point at Ship Square, in the heart of the city, scrambled for cover when explosions rang out, witnesses said, describing multiple strikes in and around the square.
Volunteers, medics, emergency workers and rescue teams involved in coordinating aid efforts have been meeting on higher ground near the square, which is itself flooded but is being used as an evacuation point because it is a known landmark.
Nine people were injured in the shelling near the evacuation point, among them one policeman, one emergency worker and one volunteer from Germany, according to Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of Kherson regional military administration.
The explosions hit at around 2 p.m. local time. “Leave, leave,” one man shouted, according to a witness. A young man held a bandage on the wounded head of an older man, and blood dripped down the younger man’s arm as he tried to offer words of comfort, witnesses said.
Serhiy Ludensky, a volunteer from an animal care center, was on a boat near Ship Square when the shelling hit a building close by, he said. He said he could hear people screaming. “There was nowhere to hide,” he said. The people on the boat managed to break down the door of a flooded building to wait for the explosions to stop.
Kristina Berdynskykh, a journalist from Kherson, had just finished an interview with a 14-year-old boy who escaped from occupied territory by boat with five members of his family, when the first explosions echoed over the waters.
“We just tried to hide by the nearest wall, but someone told us it is unsafe and we should move to another place, and I began to run to my colleagues from other media,” she said. They finally found a building they could hide in for more than 30 minutes before they emerged.
Ship Square was one of several areas in the city of Kherson targeted by the Russian forces on Thursday, according to Ukrainian officials and witnesses.
Ukrainian officials accused Russian soldiers of opening fire on people trying to evacuate from the flooded city of Oleshky, which lies on the Russian-controlled eastern bank of the Dnipro River.
A New York Times photographer was on a boat in the flooded Korabel neighborhood of the city when he saw at least two waves of shelling hit nearby, around 10 minutes apart. The second attack hit a barge near a bridge that links the island neighborhood with the mainland.
Brendan Hoffman contributed reporting.
Marc Santora has been reporting from Ukraine since the beginning of the war with Russia. He was previously based in London as an international news editor focused on breaking news events and earlier the bureau chief for East and Central Europe, based in Warsaw. He has also reported extensively from Iraq and Africa. @MarcSantoraNYT
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