Fear is a powerful thing and it is motivating many to leave the Ukrainian city of Kherson.
With Ukrainian troops closing in on the city, thousands have left using ferries to cross the great Dnipro River.
Kherson was the first major city to fall to Vladimir Putin’s military after the invasion began in February and its recapture would represent a major prize for the Ukrainians.
In footage filmed for Sky News, we see people in Kherson boarding boats from the city’s piers, their bags and suitcases hauled speedily behind them.
However, who exactly are these evacuees? Russian officials say they are trying to remove all civilians, warning of Ukrainian shelling and “terrorist attacks”.
But in a detailed interview, one resident of Kherson told Sky News that the evacuation is not designed for them.
“This is not a civilian evacuation. The collaborators are running away and those who came to help the occupiers,” said Vlad, a local writer, activist and organiser, whose full name we are not using.
“In truth [those fleeing] number no more than a few thousand people a day.
“And who are those people they are taking out?
“Mostly it’s families of Russian officers, families of Russian officials and collaborators who helped to organise the referendum. Among them are teachers and doctors, municipal workers and kindergarten staff.
“Those who have taken Russian passports.”
‘Young Russian troops arriving’
Russian kindergarten workers were shipped in, our interviewee says, to help administer a discredited referendum that preceded Russia’s annexation of the region of Kherson.
There are new arrivals in the city, however, in the form of young and inexperienced Russian troops.
“I think because of the [Russian] mobilisation, we can see new soldiers entering Kherson in fresh uniforms. They are clean, without any dirt, and very young. A lot of them are like me, in glasses, we can see they are students – but not professional soldiers.”
Will the Russians try to defend the western side of the Dnipro River, of which Kherson city is a part? This is question is the source of much speculation.
Russia’s military chief, General Sergei Surovikin, seemed to raise the prospect of a withdrawal when he told an interviewer that the situation in Kherson has been “difficult”.
Our interviewee simply is not sure.
“I don’t think anybody knows, even the Russian soldiers,” he said. However, the large-scale looting of this city is not something that is open to question.
Sky News has seen pictures of ransacked shops and businesses with signs placed on the front. “Empty,” they read. “Everything’s stolen.” Our interviewee says that everything has been lifted, large and small.
“In the last few days, we’ve seen them take fire trucks, ambulances, equipment from the cancer clinic and the regional hospital, anything of high value. They take it quickly, load it in the cars and take it to Crimea. It’s the robbery of a city.”
He admitted that many are worried about a major upstream dam, located in the city of Nova Kakhovka.
Both Russia and Ukraine have accused the other of plotting to destroy it. Our interviewee told us the destruction of the dam is unlikely to help the Russians.
“The water will go to the south where Russian troops are located. It could happen but it means they’ll be flooding themselves… But they have those moods, preferring to flood their own people than surrender.”
The next few days and weeks will be difficult, says Vlad. For now, the city’s liberation will not be won easily.
“It’s terrifying, terrifying.”