Dispatch

The Ukrainian Village That Sacrificed Itself for Kherson

One small town in Ukraine held off a Russian attack and helped liberate a key regional capital.

A member of Ukraine’s 59th Motorized Brigade walks through the devastation in Posad-Pokrovske in Kherson Oblast.
A member of Ukraine’s 59th Motorized Brigade walks through the devastation in Posad-Pokrovske in Kherson Oblast.
A member of Ukraine’s 59th Motorized Brigade walks through the devastation in Posad-Pokrovske in Kherson Oblast, Ukraine, on Nov. 22. Stefanie Glinski photos for Foreign Policy
By , a journalist covering conflicts and crises with a focus on Afghanistan and the wider Middle East.

POSAD-POKROVSKE, Ukraine—At the height of its destruction, hundreds of rockets rained down on Posad-Pokrovske every day. Things have gotten quiet since Russian troops left the outskirts, and the city of Kherson was liberated this month. Most of the noise now comes from the stray dogs roaming the bomb-cratered streets and the few returnees determined to fix up their battered homes.

Around 80 percent of the houses in this village were destroyed. Shells and shrapnel litter the area. Gas pipes are broken and electricity lines cut. The school was bombed, as was the gas station. Even the trees are burned. But Posad-Pokrovske, in its immolation, helped save Mykolaiv, and in turn, Kherson itself. Americans in Vietnam “destroyed villages to save them.” In Ukraine, they burn from incoming fire. But the bonfire in Posad-Pokrovske in part made the salvation of Kherson possible, the one regional capital taken by the Russians and recently liberated by Ukrainian troops, many of whom were previously in Posad-Pokrovske.

Straddling the highway almost midway between the cities of Mykolaiv and Kherson, Posad-Pokrovske turned into an important strategic front. Soldiers of the 28th and 59th Ukrainian brigades were stationed in and around the village after residents fled or were evacuated by armed forces on March 16. In a mobile front, this town was an island.

POSAD-POKROVSKE, Ukraine—At the height of its destruction, hundreds of rockets rained down on Posad-Pokrovske every day. Things have gotten quiet since Russian troops left the outskirts, and the city of Kherson was liberated this month. Most of the noise now comes from the stray dogs roaming the bomb-cratered streets and the few returnees determined to fix up their battered homes.

Around 80 percent of the houses in this village were destroyed. Shells and shrapnel litter the area. Gas pipes are broken and electricity lines cut. The school was bombed, as was the gas station. Even the trees are burned. But Posad-Pokrovske, in its immolation, helped save Mykolaiv, and in turn, Kherson itself. Americans in Vietnam “destroyed villages to save them.” In Ukraine, they burn from incoming fire. But the bonfire in Posad-Pokrovske in part made the salvation of Kherson possible, the one regional capital taken by the Russians and recently liberated by Ukrainian troops, many of whom were previously in Posad-Pokrovske.

Straddling the highway almost midway between the cities of Mykolaiv and Kherson, Posad-Pokrovske turned into an important strategic front. Soldiers of the 28th and 59th Ukrainian brigades were stationed in and around the village after residents fled or were evacuated by armed forces on March 16. In a mobile front, this town was an island.

“[The Russians] didn’t get through [the village],” said Andre, a press officer of the 59th Motorized Brigade, who asked Foreign Policy to withhold his full name. He explained that while the front moved in other areas of the country, including around the village, it never did so in Posad-Pokrovske itself. “That’s why this was a key strategic village,” Andre explained.

With Russians right on the outskirts, Ukrainian forces fought a fierce battle here to keep the invaders from moving farther along the highway toward Mykolaiv, just a 30-minute drive away. In return, the Russians shelled and bombed the village ceaselessly until Ukraine’s army made a move to liberate parts of the Kherson Oblast this month, with Russian forces eventually retreating to the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.

Children in the newly liberated city of Kherson shake hands with the armed forces.
Children in the newly liberated city of Kherson shake hands with the armed forces.

Children in the newly liberated city of Kherson shake hands with armed forces on Nov. 22.

From a distance, you could “hear the village getting pounded,” Andre said, referring to the months ahead of the liberation. He’s American, from Detroit, and now a Ukrainian army contract soldier. “You’d hear cluster bombs going off. We even drove over where some of the submunitions exploded.”

There were trenches on the outskirts of the village. Now, they are deserted. The troops went over the top.

“The brigade in the village was crucial to help push the Russians past the Dnipro River. It was the first line of defense from where Kherson was liberated,” said Maj. Serhiy Tsehotsky of the 59th Motorized Brigade.

Aleksander Hinkul, a 62-year-old resident, lost his newly opened pizza and sushi joint in Posad-Pokrovske to Russian shelling.

Aleksander Hinkul, 62, shows a photo of his bombed-out restaurant in Posad-Pokrovske, Ukraine.
Aleksander Hinkul, 62, shows a photo of his bombed-out restaurant in Posad-Pokrovske, Ukraine.

Aleksander Hinkul, 62, shows a photo of his bombed-out restaurant in Posad-Pokrovske on Nov. 21.

Shells of a rocket found inside one of the destroyed homes in Posad-Pokrovske are seen on Nov. 21.
Shells of a rocket found inside one of the destroyed homes in Posad-Pokrovske are seen on Nov. 21.

Shells of a rocket found inside one of the destroyed homes in Posad-Pokrovske are seen on Nov. 21.

“Columns of Russians were trying to move north towards Mykolaiv with their tanks. I saw it with my own eyes. Their artillery fired in our direction,” he said. He too believes that Mykolaiv could’ve been taken much easier had it not been for his village. He’s proud, but his personal loss isn’t easy to stomach.

“The restaurant was a big investment. Ten million hryvnia [around $272,000],” he said, distraught. He holds a framed photo of his destroyed restaurant in his hands—a memory and a haunting. “I’ll need a few more million [hryvnia] to fix it,” he added, admitting that he’s not sure how to get his hands on the cash.

Hinkul is one of a handful of residents who returned as soon as the Russians fled their positions outside Posad-Pokrovske. He’s out of cash but wants to temporarily fix up his restaurant before the weather turns cold and rainy. A few of his neighbors are helping him seal the roof and windows with wooden planks. Everyone is offering a helping hand as the few villagers who have returned are racing against time to winter-proof their homes.

Larissa Malickovich, 51, also returned to Posad-Pokrovske days after the Russian withdrawal and liberation of Kherson. She believes most residents won’t return permanently as many of the houses are beyond repair. Hers is damaged, but she believes she’ll be able to fix it with the help of her neighbors. Part of her roof is collapsed, the windows are shattered, and the walls are cracked. The rooms smell damp; whatever havoc the rockets didn’t cause, the rain did.

“I haven’t yet asked the government to help us repair our homes. For now, we’re fixing them ourselves,” she explained. She doesn’t have the money for large-scale repair projects anyway. Malickovich was evacuated from Posad-Pokrovske on March 16 with her terminally ill husband who has since died. They had previously spent three weeks sheltering in their basement, unable to count the barrages of rockets fired in their direction.

Children hold a Ukrainian flag at the entrance to the newly liberated city of Kherson
Children hold a Ukrainian flag at the entrance to the newly liberated city of Kherson

Children hold a Ukrainian flag at the entrance to the newly liberated city of Kherson on Nov. 21.

“I still wanted to come back. Even if I don’t have water, gas, or electricity, I’m going to stay. This is home.”

She stands outside with sister-in-law Tatjana Malickovich, 33, who also lives in Posad-Pokrovske. “This village saved Mykolaiv,” Tatjana said. She pulled out her phone and scrolled to a photo of her husband. “He’s still fighting in Kherson,” she said. “We lost a lot, and it’s not yet over, but we will win this war.”

Stefanie Glinski is a journalist covering conflicts and crises with a focus on Afghanistan and the wider Middle East. Twitter: @stephglinski

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