ZELENODOLSK, Ukraine — They emerge one by one in the morning light. Some by foot, but most come by bike or wheelchair. Ukrainian soldiers know to wait for the escapees on this dirt road.
“It is a very long journey, because the roads are terrible,” says Inna Kravchenko, 52, a resident fleeing with her mother from Vysokopillia, a village in southern Ukraine now under Russian control. Next to her are three bags: all that she and her 75-year-old mother Raïsa Kozlova were able to carry with them.
More than 15 million Ukrainians have fled their homes since Russia invaded in late February, according to the United Nations. Many have fled abroad, while others have sought shelter in other parts of the country, escaping towns devastated by incessant bombardments or gripped by Russian military control.
Each day, a stream of people displaced by war arrives in the southern village of Zelenodolsk, under Ukrainian control. It’s a cluster of austere, concrete buildings located in the Dnipropetrovsk region, right on the northern edge of the largely Russian-controlled Kherson region. The village has become a transit point for about 7,000 people so far, according to Dmytro Neveselyi, Zelenodolsk’s mayor.
That number is likely to rise soon. Ukrainian authorities are telling residents to evacuate the Kherson region as their forces prepare a counteroffensive to retake southern territory lost to Russia early in the war. And in the coming months, Ukrainian military officials say, Zelenodolsk will become a key staging ground for the campaign to win back control of the port city of Kherson, the regional capital, and surrounding villages.
The military maneuvers…