“It is a little scary,” said 63-year-old Alexander, who like other residents gave only his first name for fear of reprisals. “But there is no panic, people are helping each other. There is a very small minority of people who are happy that it is under Russian control, but mostly, nobody wants Kherson to become a part of Russia.”

Ever since Russian forces took the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson in early March, residents sensed the occupiers had a special plan for their town. Now, amid a crescendo of warnings from Ukraine that Russia plans to stage a sham referendum to transform the territory into a pro-Moscow “people’s republic,” it appears locals guessed right, AP reports.

After Russian forces withdrew from occupied areas around Kyiv in early April, they left behind scenes of horror and traumatized communities. But in Kherson — a large city with a major ship-building industry, located at the confluence of the Dnieper River and the Black Sea near Russian-annexed Crimea — the occupying forces have taken a different tack.

“The soldiers patrol and walk around silently. They don’t shoot people in the streets,” said Olga, a local teacher, in a telephone interview last month after the region was sealed off by Russian forces. “They are trying to give the impression that they come in peace to liberate us from something.”

“It is a little scary,” said 63-year-old Alexander, who like other residents gave only his first name for fear of reprisals. “But there is no panic, people are helping each other. There is a very small minority of people who are happy that it is under Russian control, but mostly, nobody wants Kherson to become a part of Russia.”

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