War in Ukraine: The uncertain fate of those who decide to stay in Kramatorsk | International

Night and day the sky rumbles in Kramatorsk. They are the dry and intermittent blows of the Ukrainian cannons firing at the Russian positions, some 25 kilometers away. In the streets of this city of 150,000 before the war, the last Ukrainian stronghold in the eastern province of Donetsk, those who can are rushing to leave. Humanitarian transport vehicles are waiting at the bus station to transport the last ones who can or want to leave. Sofia Onichenko is a volunteer for a local NGO that assists those who march. She delivers food for the long journey. She is 13 years old and will stay in her house, with her parents. All her friends are already far from there.

No matter what happens, he will not leave his city, Sofia promises. In the building where her family lives, they have a shelter ready to spend days, even weeks. Taking Kramatorsk is a primary objective in Russia’s plans to dominate Donbas, the Ukrainian region where Donetsk province is located. Members of the Ukrainian military units stationed in the region confirmed to this newspaper that they expect the municipality to be subject to severe bombardment in the coming weeks. Despite this, Sofía affirms that she will continue there. She hands out buns filled with meat or apples to those who board the minibuses and vans heading to safer destinations. Her hands are distinguished by long turquoise false nails. She explains that she will continue to tell about her life on Instagram and that she will follow the school year, remotely, like all Ukrainian children: as long as the power is not cut, the internet connection will work in the bunker.

Natasha Sarkisiyan and her daughter cry as they wait with their suitcases and their birdcage for a bus to be evacuated from Kramatorsk.
Natasha Sarkisiyan and her daughter cry as they wait with their suitcases and their birdcage for a bus to be evacuated from Kramatorsk.albert garcia

Kramatorsk is today a ghost town. In the streets there is practically no movement. There are still 50,000 people left, around 30% of the population, according to the city council, but few show themselves. The region’s large steel plants and coal mines have stopped production. There are no open commercial establishments, only in the ATMs still in operation there are some crowds.

A spokesman for the municipal evacuation team in the town tells EL PAÍS that the number of residents is lower, close to 25%, because the rate of departure of people had accelerated since last April 6, when the mayor, Oleg Honcharenko He asked the population to leave the place. Two days later, the main escape route, the train station, was cut off by a missile attack that killed 57 civilians and injured 100. The station was the only place in Kramatorsk where there was a flow of people, those leaving the region for the safer provinces to the west.

Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.


The announcement by the Russian Ministry of Defense at the end of March that it was going to concentrate its military power on subjugating all of Donbas ended up convincing thousands of its inhabitants that it was best to leave their lives behind to seek shelter in the west or in the countries of the European Union. The massacre of civilians at the Kramatorsk railway station was the final blow: on the same Friday, the day of the tragedy, dozens of coach convoys left for Dnipro, four hours away by road and the main city in eastern Ukraine along with to Kharkov.

A young woman says goodbye to her father from an evacuation bus in the direction of Dnipro.
A young woman says goodbye to her father from an evacuation bus in the direction of Dnipro.
Albert Garcia (THE COUNTRY)

Evacuee transportation queues had disappeared this Sunday. Those who wanted to leave had already done so in the previous 48 hours. A maze of secondary roads, shortcuts and off-road tracks safely connect Kramatorsk to Dnipro, a longer but necessary route to avoid the area controlled by Russia and its Donetsk separatist allies. Along the route, you can see mined agricultural fields, in which trenches have been dug and in which camouflaged armored vehicles await. The transfer of military vehicles is constant but always two by two, avoiding larger columns that make them a desired target for Russian drones. The area is also of incredible ecological value: pheasants, hares or foxes can be seen on the shoulder, oblivious to human violence.

Not everyone wants to leave Kramatorsk. Andrei Andriyenko is a local photographer, the first journalist to arrive at the train station after the missile attack. “That was in the morning, in the afternoon I went to my parents’ house. They had a bottle of rum, I downed it in one gulp. The experience was too terrible.” Andriyenko will continue in his city because his parents cannot leave it, they are too old, and because he wants to leave a testimony of everything that will happen.

Andriyenko has spent the last two days taking photos at the bus terminal. A wartime propaganda poster dedicated to Ivan Panteelev welcomes you to the station’s car park. Panteelev was from Donetsk and is one of the hundred martyrs of the 2014 revolution, the Maidan, which ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Panteelev was a musician and on his banner he is drawn with his guitar and uniformed as a soldier. In front of the poster, a mother has abandoned a baby cart that did not fit in the van that would take her to Poland. A team of drivers from this country, protected with bulletproof vests, wait to fill the seats to go to the border, 1,100 kilometers away.

There are residents of Kramatorsk who claim they do not have the financial resources to leave their home. That says Svetlana Rievtova, septuagenarian and mother of Sergei, an unemployed man who spent ten years in prison. They live near school number 15 in the city, destroyed by a Russian ballistic missile. Different generations but both studied at that school, just fifty meters from their home. In the building where they live there are six apartments and only three are still occupied. Mother and son walk their dog through the ruined lot of the school center. The crater left by the missile is flooded with water and Svetlana pulls the chain to prevent the dog from getting into the artificial pond.

A neighbor walks past Kramatorsk school number 15, destroyed by a Russian ballistic missile.
A neighbor walks past Kramatorsk school number 15, destroyed by a Russian ballistic missile. Albert Garcia (THE COUNTRY)

There are citizens of the Donetsk province who could march but do not because they have been fighting a war situation for many years. This is the case of Svetlana Tverskova, owner of the Allur equestrian center, one of the best in eastern Ukraine. It is located in Sloviansk, 15 kilometers from the front. In its stables there are 40 horses, owned by 40 riders, of which only four have not left. At noon on Sunday, Maria Tukar, who has been part of the Ukrainian national show jumping team, was trotting her horse Nifrid in the riding arena. She especially she caressed him, with pause, for a long time. The animal had spent a terrible night, explained Tverskova: the artillery of the two sides is located near its equestrian center and the noise disturbs the horses.

Tverskova says that it is already logistically impossible to evacuate the 40 horses and the equipment of the riders, so she will stay in her establishment. She resides alone in an adjoining house; She is helped by the few employees she has of hers and who are still in Sloviansk. She claims that in the 2014 war, the one that Russia provoked by giving support to the separatist factions of Donbas, she already suffered a lot. Bombings, interruption of water and electricity. She believes that she is better prepared now than she was then because she has a better equipped shelter. She does not know what will happen if the Russians arrive at the equestrian center, she prefers not to express it out loud, but she assures that she wants to be optimistic and expresses it with a popular Ukrainian saying: “The walls of your house are the ones that will protect you best”.

Maria Tokar, a member of the Ukrainian national jumping team with her horse Nifrid.
Maria Tokar, a member of the Ukrainian national jumping team with her horse Nifrid.Albert Garcia (THE COUNTRY)

Follow all the international information in Facebook Y Twitteror in our weekly newsletter.

Exclusive content for subscribers

read without limits

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button