The Dnipro River, Axis of Life and Death in Ukraine

The war rages on along the river, scarring towns and villages, and Russia has often directed its fire at civilian areas, a reminder that when armies clash, civilians often pay the highest price.

As the Germans invaded in 1941, Stalin ordered the destruction of the great Soviet dam in Zaporizhzhia, flooding a vast area and killing anywhere between 20,000 and 100,000 people, according to military historians. In 1943, the Germans blew up the dam again, trying to slow the Soviet advance in the Battle of the Dnipro, one of the largest engagements of the war.

Last fall, Ukrainian forces drove the invaders from the west bank of the lower Dnipro, including the city of Kherson and the farms and hamlets around it, but the Russians have continued to bombard the area. For Inna, 57, and her husband Mykola, 63, who live near the city of Kherson, that means days are centered around getting the cooking and cleaning done before noon, when the sound of incoming Russian artillery means it is time to move to their food cellar.

“I don’t want to leave this home because I can’t, mentally,” Inna said this winter. “These are my walls, and if it’s meant to be, it will be.”

The Ukrainian authorities have ordered all residents on the river’s west bank not to leave their homes this weekend, as Russian shelling of the region has intensified ahead of the looming Ukrainian counteroffensive. On a single day this week, Russian shelling killed at least 23 civilians.

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