September 8, 2023, 20:12

A few days before the ‘referendum,’ people were cooped up in their apartments. There was no one on the streets – memories of Kherson residents, survivors of the occupation

Residents of Kherson recall that the first rumors about holding a referendum in the city were already on the 13th day of the occupation. And it was on March 13 that the largest protest was held in Kherson. Citizens walked past the occupiers’ equipment columns and ran into machine guns carrying the Ukrainian flag. Despite the enemy’s shots, they had the courage to tell the occupiers the truth—the enemy was on its land and had no place in Kherson.

Serhii Starkov, a resident of Kherson, shared his memories during a press conference on the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of eastern and southern Ukraine in the context of the sham election held by the invaders, which took place within the framework of the country’s main discussion platform the BrainHub at the Media Center Ukraine – Ukrinform. The event was organized by Media Center Ukraine – Ukrinform and the National Resistance Center of the Special Operations Forces.

“They met our civil society’s strong resistance m. This is a lifelong memory for everyone. It was scary when we went with flags, to the machine guns, to the columns of vehicles. At that time, there were vehicle columns in the city. The largest protest was on March 13.

We were walking in a column of people. We had a flag, probably about a kilometer long. And so we walked in a column for many kilometers, and the flag was unfurled because of the equipment columns from which the enemies started shooting in the air. It was scary, but people kept walking anyway, shouting that they [the occupiers – Ed.] were fascists, that they were not on non-Russian land, that no one needed them here,” said Serhii Starkov, who survived the first months of the occupation and was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service.

At the same time, his mother, Liudmyla Starkova, recalls that she faced the invasion as if in a nightmare.

“On March 1, they came to our city. On March 1, I saw a column of them under my windows. The column must have been marching for 20 minutes, but it seemed to me that it was at least an hour. So we lived in this much tension. I used to say: “People are wandering around the city blacker than black,” she recalled.

She notes that from the first days of the occupation, the enemies started talking about the so-called ‘referendum.’ However, Kherson residents also began to prepare from the first days that they would not participate. And on the eve of its holding, they did not even leave their homes.

“Because they had to prove that they mattered here. But all the time, we were also preparing for boycotting the referendum. We did not need it at all. And on the days when they scheduled it, even a few days before, people never left their dwellings, not just their houses, even their apartments. And you probably also saw footage of them walking around the entrances, but people kept the doors shut. We lived in a private house, so for several days, there were no people on the street at all. We only called back, and everyone looked out the windows to see if anyone was coming. That’s how we spent it. We were cooped up,” said Liudmyla Starkova.

About those who participated in the sham election, Liudmyla said next: “We only know that some people were brought in, as well as our residents who are collaborators; they were transported from one place to another, and it was all very well planned. But around the city, we know people who were in one electoral district and the same people in another. That’s how the referendum went.”

At the same time, the woman says that words cannot describe the way her hometown resisted.

“I am very proud of my city because the way my hometown resisted was something you had to experience. It’s impossible to put it into words. You had to see it to be proud of your fellow countrymen for the rest of your life,” she summarized.

As ‘Ostap’ spokesperson of the National Resistance Center of the Special Operations Forces emphasized during the event, such discussions are important because they are not about trivial things. It’s about the real occupation, about what life is like under real occupation, about what civilians feel.

“Very often, officials tell things, and not always, perhaps, someone trusts that someone does not have this practice. At the same time, there are real people who lived under occupation, who know what repression is, who know what pressure is, who know what it is like to hide the Ukrainian flag under the pavement so that the occupiers would not find it, but at the same time could not say goodbye to it because it is an important thing for her,” Ostap added.

BrainHub is the country’s main discussion platform created by the Media Center Ukraine – Ukrinform. It brings together experts from the state and civil society sectors. BrainHub hosts intellectual discussions around the issues of the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine. It’s the birthplace of the best ideas that will become the foundation for the road map of Ukraine’s reconstruction in all sectors: economy, infrastructure, education, agriculture, security, digital, etc.

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