War in Ukraine: Kharkov residents assume normality under the bombs | International

Crouched in the grass, Volodya the old places a small solar panel from which a black cable comes out in the afternoon light. With a sad smile, the white-haired man explains that he has been without electricity for four weeks. He relies on the semi-home system to be able to charge his and Volodya’s mobile phones. the young man, his neighbor, who sweeps the stairs of the portal, as if the Soviet-style hive in the Saltivka neighborhood in the city of Kharkov, under practically constant attack by Russian troops, did not have its walls covered in shrapnel and almost all the glass busted. “And tomorrow I’ll clean again,” he says with a shrug. The human being gets used to everything, confirms Volodya the old.

And the few who have remained in Saltivka, which has spent weeks on the front line on the eastern front, have assumed as part of their daily lives living under the constant roar of bombs in an unpredictable war that can be prolonged. Russia has accumulated little military gains in the offensive on Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin has changed the focus to focus on advancing on the Donbas area, in the east of Ukraine, and on the south, where he is fighting to seize the last point of resistance in the port city of Mariupol, on the Sea of ​​Azov, the Azovstal steelworks.

Western intelligence services believe that the Kremlin has not abandoned the idea of ​​stripping Ukraine of its sovereignty. They warn that Putin may be preparing for a long battle that may not only become chronic in Ukraine, but also with the latest threats to Moldova, with destabilization operations in the form of attacks in the separatist region of Transnistria – where Moscow has a thousand decades-old soldiers and Soviet-era weaponry — could spread to other parts of Eastern Europe. Rhetoric describing the war against Ukraine as a major conflict is increasingly abounding on Russian state channels. Russia against NATO. The Kremlin against the West and its values. Meanwhile, several Western countries that had little confidence in kyiv’s defense capabilities have increased their arms shipments to Ukraine and have approved the provision of more funds for defense material in order to contain the expansionist appetite of the Kremlin.

A soldier inside a bombed-out building.  On the other side of the window you can see what remains of the headquarters of a telecommunications company.
A soldier inside a bombed-out building. On the other side of the window you can see what remains of the headquarters of a telecommunications company.Albert Garcia (THE COUNTRY)

Life goes on in Saltivka regardless of geopolitics and the calculations of the Russian president. And in many of the tree-lined residential yards where children once played and neighbors chatted, bonfires now crackle as small groups of people roast a few pieces of meat, filling the air with a contrasting barbecue smell. with the image of desolation. Several parts of the neighborhood have been without water, electricity and gas for weeks.

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It gets hard, says Lidia Zhdonova, who is reading a little religious book sitting on some leaky stairs. Crossing herself, she explains that this Friday is one of the quietest days in weeks. Petite and smiling, with a flowered scarf covering her hair, the 83-year-old mechanical engineer acknowledges that her attacks seem more distant. The ground also shakes less. However, Ella Zhdonova assures that she is not trusting: “You have to give thanks every day for being alive. Although we do not live here, we survive.”

Ukrainian troops are pushing hard against Russian soldiers in a major counteroffensive on the Kharkov front. The kyiv Army has managed to regain control of several key points around the city in recent days. But the situation is very volatile, says a military spokesman. And there is still a need to strengthen the positions and, later, clear all the unoccupied areas of mines. Military analysts believe that the Kremlin is preparing to intensify its offensive on the Lugansk and Donetsk fronts in the Donbas area and advance towards the industrial city of Zaporizhia from the south and from the Black Sea, from where the Ministry of Russian defense assured this Friday that it had launched several submarine missiles.

gutted buildings

Before the war, Kharkov had more than 1.5 million inhabitants, most of them Russian-speaking. Now Ukraine’s second-largest city, which has suffered a massive exodus and massive damage, offers a landscape of gutted buildings, smashed skyscrapers, embedded missiles and shrapnel scars. The town, an important educational and technological center before the war, is one of the hardest hit by Russian forces. The bombings have destroyed more than 16,000 infrastructures, according to the mayor, Igor Terejov, more than 1,300 of them, residential buildings. Like the house of Vladislav Malyshev. The man, one of the leaders of the Territorial Defense Forces, shows the images of his townhouse, with the front wall completely destroyed. The room is littered with rubble and the Ukrainian flag he planted in the garden before the invasion has holes in it.

Residents of the Saltivka neighborhood cook outside their house.
Residents of the Saltivka neighborhood cook outside their house.Albert Garcia (THE COUNTRY)

Life goes on and Yana Fidei practices for her drawing class which, like all others, continues on-line because of the war. She has been living with her brother and her two grandmothers for a month in the basement of Larissa’s store, a woman from the neighborhood who has also been left homeless and who has set up a shelter there and installed cots even on the shelves of the store, where Some kids play table football. Yana is 12 years old and she misses her house, playing volleyball and hanging out with her friends. Almost everyone has left the city. Many of them are outside the country, in places like Poland or Germany, from where her drawing teacher now also teaches her lessons. While the older ones chat, the girl puts on her music headphones and resumes her pencil practice on a notebook. Everything goes on. Although barely an hour ago a woman was killed at the gates of Larissa’s shelter-tent by artillery fire.

The streets of Saltivka are a desert by late afternoon. The attacks are usually indiscriminate and unpredictable, but when the power goes out they are worse. There are no stores open in the heart of the neighborhood, which depends on the delivery of food, water and medicine from volunteers like Vitalli Kuchma and his organization Mova Life, who reach out to the hottest neighborhoods. When his van or one of his cars arrives with hot food, bread and basic necessities, those huddled in the cellars come out to queue.

Daily life in Kharkov is also sleeping with a bulletproof vest on top of your uniform. Like the health worker Yulia Kozak does, in case she has to leave in an ambulance in a hurry to attend to an emergency. They usually receive a dozen calls a day, she explains at one of the city’s first response centers, where a third of the toilets have moved to live. Some no longer have a home or their area has become unlivable; others prefer to chain shifts and stay there to sleep. “I feel that victory is close. It is not just hope, I say it with certainty, as in legends and stories, I believe that we will defeat evil together”, remarks the health worker with conviction.

Kharkov regional government building, bombed multiple times.
Kharkov regional government building, bombed multiple times. Albert Garcia (THE COUNTRY)

For Anna Liholot, the new normal is thinking about what to do for lunch and dinner. How to groom And how to stay safe. She lives with one of her children and her four cats on the sixth floor of a building in Saltivka. In a flat with two fridges that no longer work and a kitchen that has been converted into a storage for buckets of water. In her block, only four of the 30 apartments are inhabited. And at night, if they don’t go down to the basement to take refuge, Liholot and her son lock themselves in the house. Life has become very hard in some parts of the neighborhood, where sometimes fights fueled by alcohol or drugs also break out. Life goes on and Liholot no longer constantly thinks about the bombing and the death around her, as in the first days of the war. She gets ready every day as she can, she paints the line of her eye gray and goes out to talk with the neighbors. “My mother lived to be 99 years old,” she says, “I am 75 and I aspire to have a long life ahead of me.”

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