In wartorn Ukraine's southern front, the relentless screams of the heartbroken fill the air

Vira after hearing her partner of two years, Victor, has been killed. Credit: ITV News

As Vira lowers herself towards the surface of the road, she clutches her phone tightly.

Its screen is still lit from the phone call which has just ended and triggered her distress.

She begins to sob as she crouches, but attracts little attention from passersby in a village where the screams of the grieving have become so common.  

She has just learned that Victor, her partner of two years, has been killed in a shelling attack which hit his home on the outskirts of the Kherson region.  

The couple had fallen in love in their sixties but lived separately and would spend most of the week with their children from previous marriages. But the weekends were their time together, often spent sitting in one of their well-kept gardens, a few miles apart.

The Ukrainian flag flies on a building destroyed by shelling. Credit: ITV News

“I had a call from (Victor’s) number, which is saved as “Sunshine” on my phone”, she tells me.

“So when I answered I said, ‘Hello, Sunshine’, but instead his son replied.

I asked him what was wrong with his dad - he said his father is gone. He found him in the garden which was destroyed in an explosion. His father’s body was lying on the ground.”

Although Vira lives in a recently liberated village, Victor’s home is in Russian controlled territory - she fears she may not have the chance to reclaim his body for his burial.

The agony of his death is compounded by the uncertainty of a line on a map which cuts through what remains of the life they once had together.

Soldiers might be stationed in the trenches for weeks. Credit: ITV News

The counteroffensive in southern Ukraine will not in itself end the war in the country - it will not stop the shells, the bombs, and the attacks on critical infrastructure - but the human impact of allowing families a few miles away who were torn apart to perhaps reunite, might be one of the many consequences of this military operation.

We cannot be sure how the Ukrainians are progressing in their counteroffensive. With limited access to the frontline for independent journalists and no access to the city of Kherson itself, the battle is being fought in the dark.

Despite reports of rapid progress, the race towards the Russian-controlled city has been slowed down by bad weather which has prevented some hardware from crossing fields, and by heavy losses on both sides.

But some Ukrainian officials hope Russia intends to leave the city without a fight, although some dismiss that as wishful thinking.

The river divides the city and loved ones. Credit: ITV News

When video from Kherson city emerged last week showing that the Russian flag had disappeared from above a government administration building, there was excitement online.

Some of social media’s armchair scrutineers, who have been so effective in working out what is going on during the invasion so far, speculated that the footage could be evidence of a Russian withdrawal from the city.

Other videos showed that some checkpoints previously manned by Russian soldiers had been abandoned.

One confident-sounding western official said: “Russia has highly likely prioritised a temporary bolstering of force in the area to cover the retreat”.

Vira's partner died in Russian controlled territory and his family might not be able to claim his body. Credit: ITV News

As the only regional capital Russia has managed to seize during almost nine months of conflict, its liberation would be seen as a major victory for Ukraine and a potential springboard towards a push for Crimea.

Russia has illegally annexed the Kherson region and ordered the ‘immediate evacuation’ of the city of the same name.

In the trenches nearby we meet young soldiers who might be stationed there for weeks.

There are long periods of watching and waiting, broken by occasional commands to fire mortars and less occasional cigarette breaks. They too are aware of the speculation about the liberation of Kherson which has been described as being imminent now for several months.

They have little more insight than we do, but they are optimistic. “It could be weeks maybe, but definitely this year”, one tells me.

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