Fears Russia plans to ‘conscript Ukrainian men’ in Kherson to ‘fight against their own army’ in sinister twist

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It was just one missile, but it damaged four medical buildings.

Bashtanka hospital was hit early evening on Tuesday: a major surgery was in progress and a woman was giving birth.

Children had been moved from the shattered paediatric centre to a safer place. Depressingly, Ukraine’s medical staff know their buildings are being targeted. Ukrainian authorities say over 320 hospitals have been bombed since the conflict began.

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‘We feel, and I feel, in danger here,’ one doctor said

Alla Barsihian, head of Bashtanka hospital, took us on a tour of what was left of it. Medical kit was destroyed, internal door frames were displaced and every window on every ward was shattered. A hospital which served a community of 140,000 people was now dysfunctional, empty. Patients had to be moved elsewhere.

Dr Barsihian said: “The thing is at the start of the war, like other hospitals in the region, there was a red cross painted in white canvas – and you can see it very clearly, and we hoped this would somehow save us. But it turns out there is nothing sacred in this war.”

“We feel, and I feel, in danger here,” she added.

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“This is scary and really dangerous, but we work and will continue to work.”

Russia has changed the name of its invasion to the “Operation to defend Donbas”. But if that is the mission, it’s hard to understand the rationale for bombing a hospital that is 300 miles away from the region.

Ukraine's medical staff know their buildings are being targeted
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Ukraine’s medical staff know their buildings are being targeted

Fears Russia plans to ‘conscript’ Ukrainian men

The continued shelling in the Mykolaiv area speaks of something beyond Vladimir Putin’s stated intentions. The southern coastal areas in the West, fit more with ambitions to regain the former territory of the Soviet era, when Mykolaiv was its shipbuilding centre and Odesa the USSR’s great trading port. This is implied but not explicit in the four-point plan set out by the Kremlin today which stated an intention to control southern Ukraine.

Right now, families are also fleeing from Russian occupied Kherson – where the Kremlin is threatening a referendum to turn this coastal Ukraine province into an independent republic.

Vasiliy and Ludmila, who didn’t want to give their surnames, have just fled from Kherson with their children. They said adults without children are being stopped from leaving.

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 Bashtanka's flame blackened high street doesn't convey how ugly this war has become
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Bashtanka’s flame blackened high street doesn’t convey how ugly this war has become

Ludmila said: “People are saying that the Russians are going to conscript the men who are left there.”

Vasiliy added: “They want to create militias like in Donetsk and Luhansk. They want to do it so our countrymen will go and fight on their side and fight against the Ukrainian army.”

This would be a sinister twist. So far, Bashtanka has held back the Russian advance – but the high street is a parade of shops gutted by fire. Two pharmacies and a beauty salon are burnt beyond recognition. Just as the town is scarred by war, so too are its people.

The Russians are getting closer
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The Russians are getting closer

Valentina Donchenko, 69, said she now hates her family in Russia, and they hate her too.

She said: “All of my relatives are in Russia. I lived here 28 years and now I hate them all. There’s no point talking to them. They don’t get it. Even my cousin says that I am her enemy. That I’m a Nazi. It’s such a big wound that it doesn’t even fit in my chest.”

But life goes on. Nadia Rospopova, from the nearby village of Yavinko, can’t survive without selling her farm produce to a dwindling market. We find her on the roadside selling eggs off the back of her car boot.

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“We are being bombed from all sides,” she said.

“We came here just to get some money. We have cattle at home, and we walk them out under fire. Our house was hit twice. There’s no roof – all the windows are shattered. Everything is broken.

Russia has changed the name of its invasion to the 'Operation to defend Donbas'
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Russia has changed the name of its invasion to the ‘Operation to defend Donbas’

“We haven’t evacuated because we have cattle. But the Russians are close. They are 30km from us. They are shelling constantly.”

Once a normal town, with a corner store, two pharmacies and beauty salon – all now gone – even Bashtanka’s flame blackened high street doesn’t convey how ugly this war has become.

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