While millions of refugees have fled Ukraine since the start of the invasion on February 24, others have stayed to help those who remain in areas now under Russian control.
Roman Baklazhov, a furniture maker from Kherson, stayed behind to distribute medication and cook for elderly people after parts of the region fell to the Russian military in mid-March.
“We started helping people from 2014 and haven’t really stopped. We helped refugees from Donbas who moved to Kherson,” Baklazhov told CNN last week. “On February 24, of course, we were all in shock, and then I understood that something had to be done.”
Last week Ukrainian officials estimated around half the population of Kherson had left the region, many of whom say they fled heavy-handed Russian rule.
Baklazhov started handing out free lunches to those who remained, cooking in a school using donations of potatoes and chicken from local farmers, and feeding around 200 people per day.
“This is a depressed district in our city, it is closer to the edge of the city. And it’s mostly pensioners,” he said, adding that there have been issues getting pension payments to people who live in more rural areas.
Baklazhov also works to make sure that people can access medicines.
“There is a problem with meds, that the people do not have money, they are running out of money. And they can’t buy it,” added Baklazhov.
To help out, Baklazhov coordinates deliveries of medicines with Andrii Vakarchuk, who lives in Odesa, sending him lists of drugs that people need so he can buy them and send them to Kherson.
Vakarchuk told CNN that the deliveries have to pass Russian checkpoints, and soldiers sometimes steal products like food.
“Medicines still, it seems, they do not touch,” he said. “Somehow they took one bag from mine, and so they let the rest pass.”
But getting help to Kherson remains difficult, he said.
“There is no single route that works,” said Vakarchuk. “Every time it is some kind of lottery, they are looking for a better way.”