Hundreds of civilians on Saturday streamed out of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, whose recapture they had celebrated just weeks earlier.
The escape of hundreds from the city came as the country paid homage to the millions of Ukrainians who died in a Stalin-era famine, and sought to ensure that Russia’s war in Ukraine does not deprive others worldwide of its vital food exports.
A line of trucks, vans and cars, some towing trailers or ferrying out pets and other belongings, stretched a mile or more on the outskirts of Kherson.
Days of intensive shelling by Russian forces prompted a bittersweet exodus: Many civilians were happy that their city had been won back, but lamented that they could not stay.
“It is sad that we are leaving our home,” said Yevhen Yankov, as a van he was in inched forward. “Now we are free, but we have to leave, because there is shelling, and there are dead among the population.”
Poking her head out from the back, Svitlana Romanivna added: “We went through real hell. Our neighbourhood was burning, it was a nightmare. Everything was in flames.”
Emilie Fourrey, emergency project co-ordinator for aid group Doctors Without Borders in Ukraine, said the evacuation of 400 patients of Kherson’s psychiatric hospital, which is situated near both an electrical plant and the frontline, had begun on Thursday and was set to continue in the coming days.
Kherson was one of many cities to face a blistering onslaught of Russian artillery fire and drone attacks, with the shelling especially intense there.
Elsewhere, the barrage largely targeted infrastructure, though civilian causalities were reported.
Repair crews across the country were scrambling on Saturday to restore heat, electricity and water services that were blasted into disrepair.
Russia has ratcheted up its attacks on critical infrastructure after suffering battlefield setbacks.
A prominent Russian nationalist said on Saturday that the Russian military does not have enough doctors, in what was a rare public admission of problems within the military.
In the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy oversaw a busy day of diplomacy, welcoming several European Union leaders for meetings and hosting an International Summit on Food Security to discuss food security and agricultural exports from the country.
The prime ministers of Belgium, Poland and Lithuania and the president of Hungary were on hand, and many others took part by video.
Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal said Ukraine, despite its own financial straits, has allocated 900 million hryvna (€23.5 million) to buy corn for Yemen, Sudan, Kenya and Nigeria.
“Ukraine knows what hunger is, and we do not want people to die again in the 21st century because of Russia and its inhuman methods,” he was quoted as saying by the news agency Interfax.
Mr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was working to get its grain on ships and to countries that need it.
“Our goal is ambitious and specific – to save at least five million people from hunger,” he said.
The reminder about food supplies was timely: Ukrainians were marking the 90th anniversary of the start of the “Holodomor,” or Great Famine, which killed more than three million people over two years as the Soviet government under dictator Josef Stalin confiscated food and grain supplies and deported many Ukrainians.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz marked the commemoration by drawing parallels with the impact of the war in Ukraine on world markets.
Exports from Ukraine have resumed under a UN-brokered deal but have still been far short of pre-war levels, driving up global prices.
“Today, we stand united in stating that hunger must never again be used as a weapon,” Mr Scholz said in a video message.
“That is why we cannot tolerate what we are witnessing: The worst global food crisis in years with abhorrent consequences for millions of people – from Afghanistan to Madagascar, from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa.”
He said Germany, with the UN’s World Food Programme, will provide an additional 15 million euros (£13 million) for further grain shipments from Ukraine.
Last year Ukraine and Russia provided around 30% of the world’s exported wheat and barley, 20% of its corn, and more than 50% of its sunflower oil, the UN has said.
In a post on the Telegram social network on Saturday, Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said more than 3,000 specialists for a local utility continued to work “around the clock” and had succeeded in restoring heat to more than 90% of residential buildings.
While about one-quarter of Kyiv residents remained without electricity, he said water services had been returned to all in the city.