Ukraine, a journey to the East under Russian siege. “We are few and without food but we resist in the bunkers”

“The Russians are at the gates of the city and we are preparing for the final battle.” Oleksandr Serhiiovych mayor of the Ukrainian city further east of Donbass manages to stay calm, despite everything. “We are without water, gas and electricity.” Of the 120,000 inhabitants who lived during peacetime in Sjevzherodonetsk “There are barely 25,000 left,” he admits with some despair. Communications were interrupted by the bombardments: “We evacuated as many people as possible. The blocking of telephone lines has complicated operations and now we are not able to trace all the inhabitants”. And then in town it only remains to be prepared to resist as much as possible.

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THE AIRCRAFT SEAT

Sjevjerodonetsk is a ghost town “there is no building that hasn’t been hit”. Checkpoints were also abandoned by soldiers. At a crossroads, we meet a group of soldiers determined to dig a trench, in anticipation of urban warfare. Now the question is not whether the Russians will be able to arrive but when they will decide to enter. The defenses outside the city are crumbling now, it is only a matter of time before the battle moves to the central streets. Since the start of the war, at least 400 civilians have died in Sjevzherodonetsk. The ground invasion has not yet begun, but the novelty is the use of aviation. We visit a district in the south of the city, where the bombs fell just a few hours ago. Sacha tells us that he heard the plane go by: “First the whistle, then the explosion. The bomb hit the entrance to the shelter squarely – so look down -. A man lost his life, he only went out to smoke a cigarette. Among the inhabitants, no one is able to give an explanation for what is happening: “Who knows what they wanted to hit, here there are only civilian houses.”

THOSE WHO DO NOT ESCAPE

The town hall has been transformed into a logistics center for humanitarian aid, around 300 people and 30 families with children are helped every day. From the early hours of the morning, civilians line up in single file to collect food, medicine and diapers. Irina is 73 years old, she walks slowly dragging a cart: “Give me something to eat, I don’t need anything else. My husband cannot walk, he is constantly bedridden”. Every four days, she comes here on foot, wearing old slippers: she loads the cart with 10 kilos of food and a supply of hygiene products and returns home to take care of her husband. Maicol is a volunteer from the logistics center, he speaks perfect English and explains why many people have decided to stay in this hell: “My mother is bedridden, she is 89 years old, how can I take her? The only thing I can do is stay close to her, during the day I come here to lend a hand so as not to think too much about the problems”. The youngest of the volunteers is 17 years old, his name is Daniel: “Come with me, I’ll show you my neighbour’s house”. A few hundred meters from the town square is a devastated house, hit by a grad missile just two days ago. “It was 9 a.m., an incredible noise, the house upside down.” The woman cannot hold back her tears as she tells us about these tragic moments. The missile hit the garage squarely, saving the house: “It was a miracle,” he said in a voice broken by tears. “My children are still in shock, I would like to pick up my father who lives two streets away but I don’t feel like it, I’m still too scared.”

LIFE UNDERGROUND

Last stop in the delivery of humanitarian aid, a Soviet-era bunker has been reopened for the occasion: 240 people have been living there for more than a month. An underground city that has managed to organize itself over time. Outside are the field kitchens, inside the Soviet symbols that take you back to the First World War. Slava holds her two-year-old, nine-month-old son in her arms, who can’t stop crying: “I don’t remember how long we’ve been here. It’s humid, you get sick all the time.’ Widespread despair mixes with moments of anger. A woman loses her temper and starts yelling at the policeman on duty: “We haven’t received our salary for two months, we don’t have any money, we don’t know what to do anymore. We need medicine”. Before leaving, a woman stops us: she speaks in English and has a message for European citizens: “Do all you can to help us achieve peace, it’s the only thing we need, we don’t ask for anything else. There is no more time, we cannot wait any longer”.

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