At the end of January, Leo de Lange moved to Kherson because of his work and because he met the love of his life there. Now that he and his girlfriend and daughter are driving safely through Turkey, he can laugh at the poor timing of his move.
Less than a month later, Leo’s life was turned upside down, he told RTL Nieuws. “On the second night of the war I came out. I heard a big commotion.” He looked up and saw two Russian fighter jets directly above him. “Then you think: God damn it, where did I end up?”
Kherson soon fell into the hands of the Russians as the first major city. Liu says the transition has been very gradual. While Russian soldiers were already walking the streets, the city government was still Ukrainian.
Due to the lack of real power, the early days were very chaotic. “In the beginning there was complete chaos. There was a lot of looting.”
Thieves are tied up
And so the citizens were playing for their judge. The thieves were tied to the lampposts with metallic foil. “It looked awful. Pictures and videos of them were taken and posted on social media. Then the looting ended soon.”
After that, a state of great solidarity arose among the citizens. Liu says everyone waited in line while supermarkets were serving free food. Leo was able to get cash through a friend of his in the brewery industry.
A few weeks later, the Russians also took over the city government. They appointed their people.
“They were completely rotten,” Liu says. “They watched the taxes and forced the big business to open up.” Although they didn’t have more staff, they had to. “If it’s open, the Russians will say: Do you already have a work permit? Guess who you can buy it from.”
But it didn’t stop there. “A week later they came again and said, ‘Give me the money, or we will close your business. In the end, they came out a lot of stores and demanded only five percent of the turnover.'”
The Internet service provider in Kherson was also raided and forced to cut off the Internet. Many people ended up without wifi. Across the street, people lined up in front of shops and restaurants, hoping to catch a Wi-Fi signal. “That was so crazy.”
Meanwhile, Leo himself tried to return to normal life. He walked back and forth to his workplace every day and even drank a cup of coffee on the street now and then. But his Dutch citizenship was precarious.
“I had to avoid the Russian soldiers. Don’t reveal in particular that I don’t speak Russian. If they found out I had a Dutch passport, I’d be really screwed.”
Foreigners were treated harshly. “It went well at first, but then you heard about an older Spaniard who suddenly disappeared.” Another person had an American flag in his trunk. “He was totally beaten up.”
One day, a good American acquaintance of Leo suddenly disappeared. “No one knew where he was. Until suddenly I saw him in a video on a pro-Russian propaganda channel.”
An American acquaintance of Leo, according to Leo under duress, “Long live the Russian army”:
Then fear began to strike Leo himself. “You start walking faster down the street, and you’re constantly looking around.” And since then he has heard from the US embassy that his friend is in a prison in Donetsk.
It became very hot under their feet, and Leo, his girlfriend and her daughter decided to flee. This is followed by an exciting journey, with many perilous moments at the checkpoints.
Shortly after they left, they were informed that Russian soldiers had completely overturned their apartment complex. The doors were pushed out and the property of the residents was stolen.
But they are now safe. From Turkey, Liu says he is ashamed of his naivety. “I thought that everything would be fine with Putin. He would never invade. He destroyed a lot of lives. Before that, of course, in Syria, Georgia and Chechnya. But you only know how bad it is when you experience he-she.”
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