Shortages Of Cash, Food, Gas: Mayor Of Ukrainian Town Describes Two Weeks Behind Russian Lines

KYIV -- On the first day of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces moved the roughly 50 kilometers from the previously occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea to the town of Oleshky, just outside the southern city of Kherson.

The Russians are mostly gone now, but the town is behind the lines and cut off from the government in Kyiv.

Locals in the town, which had a prewar population of about 24,000 people, turn out for daily demonstrations against the war, now entering its third week.

“The situation has stabilized,” Oleshky Mayor Yevhen Ryshchuk told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service in a telephone interview on March 12. “Problems with bread and foodstuffs have been resolved…. There are lines, but they are slowly getting shorter. We have water and electricity.

“But I think that sometime in the next 10 days or so, we will have problems with medications,” he added.

Pensions are paid regularly but only to those who receive bank transfers, Ryshchuk said. Those who used to pick up cash at the post office have not been paid since the town has been cut off from Kyiv.

“There is nowhere to bring the cash in from,” he said. “Already, some people do not have any money to buy groceries.”

The administration has been able to bring in some food, including potatoes and fish, but it was all distributed to the hospital and other social services.

“The hospital and places like that are supplied with food, but getting groceries is a problem for some people,” the mayor said.

Ryshchuk said his office was running a hotline with volunteers available around the clock to speak with residents and direct them to food, shelter, and other necessities.

He estimated the town has enough gasoline to keep stations open another five days.

Volunteers are also serving as security patrols.

“The police, prosecutors, and the SBU [state security service] -- they all left,” Ryshchuk said. An 8 p.m. curfew has been ordered.

“We have handled the looters,” he said. “There were some in the first days when there was no real authority. But everything has settled down. Emergency services are working, thanks to God and all those guys who are working more than anyone else these days.”

Farmers in the settlements outside the town have also begun phoning Ryshchuk’s office, asking if they can begin preparing their fields for planting. Their intentions could be hampered by fuel shortages, he added.

“But people want to get out there,” he said. “They all understand that no one knows how long the war will last or how things will end up, but nonetheless, people need to eat -- today, tomorrow, every day.”