The soldier has a large open wound on his neck. In the ambulance they have ripped off his bulletproof vest and the equipment to be able to attend to him. His partner now holds the objects carefully. And as if they were some kind of amulet, he deposits them next to the stretcher in the field hospital where Dr. Andrii Borisenko and his team work in sync to stabilize the patient. The soldier, about 50 years old and with brown hair, is only the first in the afternoon. The 24th medical brigade, one of the most famous among the Ukrainian Army’s medical units, reinforces his alert with him. More wounded will arrive.
The small emergency center, well camouflaged and without any signage on the maps, is at a strategic point between the Donetsk and Lugansk fronts, in one of the hottest areas of the front in the Donbas area, in eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces are tightening their attacks. After withdrawing from the Kharkov front, in which the Ukrainian Army has managed to recover a good strip around the country’s second largest city, the Kremlin is redirecting those forces towards the Donbas area, according to Ukrainian government sources. With air strikes, infantry advances and the construction of pontoon bridges at strategic points of the mighty Siverski Donets river, Russia pushes above all on the Luhansk front, where it has made significant progress.
Vladimir Putin’s troops have already taken over part of the belt that surrounds the north of the city of Severodonetsk – the most important in the Lugansk province. They fight there against the Ukrainian Army street by street, between the hives of flats and low houses, according to a spokeswoman for the governor, Serhii Haidai. The Kremlin longs for the conquest of Severodonetsk, framed in a clearing, and the attacks against the industrial town are constant and increasingly ferocious. The ground trembles and the columns of black smoke in the sky are now an almost permanent part of the landscape for the scarce 15,000 citizens who remain crouched in the city, where 106,000 people lived before the war. That, when they can get out of their shelters.
The barren streets of Severodonetsk, once alive, now offer a post-apocalyptic image: empty buildings, scars of attacks, broken glass, craters caused by shelling, rubble, rubble, loose tiles. There is no water, no electricity, no gas. There are hardly a couple of stores open in the whole city, says Natalia Fedorenko. Or so he has heard. She has been living with her family for more than two months in the shelter of a school in the city. Like many others, she relies on supplies brought in from time to time by groups of volunteers. Still, she doesn’t want to leave. She says that she doesn’t know where.
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Like Fedorenko, many others refuse to leave their homes; the only thing they own. Also people with health problems have decided to stay under the bombs. And there are those who, like Tania —who has left the shelter to see what is going on outside—, her husband and her son, believe that if the Russians arrive and occupy the city “not much will change either”. Tania is originally from Rubizhne, now under Russian control, and she says that she has heard that there are supplies there and that “humanitarian aid” is distributed. “They even pay pensions”, she wields. Without a telephone line, or internet, or television, Tania, who prefers not to give her last name, has heard these rumours. And she trusts them.
cooking over campfires
In Severodonetsk, cooking is done outside, on neighbors’ patios. In bonfires in the street, lit with firewood. And you eat what you can, remarks Liudmila Volodimirovna. For today, she laments showing the inside of a couple of saucepans, there is “water with water”. The woman, a retired economist, speaks bitterly of a city she loved for years, where she was happy with her husband, Yuri, and their daughter, who fled to Poland at the beginning of this war, and has been reluctant to leave ever since. the invasion.
Volodimirovna blames the world, the Kremlin, the Ukrainian government, NATO, that she has to wash herself like cats, that neither she nor the few remaining in her bloc have almost enough to eat, that she has lost everything. “We want peace. [Vladímir] Putin and [Volodímir] Zelensky should have sat down to negotiate a long time ago. If they lived like us for a few days, things would be different,” he says.
The talks that Volodimirovna longs for are, however, stalled. The war, which has already completed 78 days, is on the way to being a long, bloody conflict with no forecast in sight. Russia is deploying forces in the southeast, towards the banks of the Siverski Donets River to protect the main force concentration and supply routes in positions it has anchored around the city of Izium, captured in April, which has become an important base of operations and where the hottest front in the Donetsk province is now concentrated.
Russia’s war against Ukraine is being decided in Donbas, according to military analysts. Since 2014, the area was already the scene of the conflict between the kyiv Army and the pro-Russian separatists fed by the Kremlin and through which Russia managed to control a third of the Lugansk and Donetsk provinces. Now, faced with the push of Putin’s Army, Ukraine is sending more weapons — and more sophisticated ones, such as the defense material provided by Western allies — and more troops to the area. Several special forces units have also been deployed on the hotter Lugansk front. Like Evgeni’s. His team is fighting in Bilohorivka, where a Russian attack on a school on Saturday killed 60 people hiding in the building’s shelter. The Moscow soldiers managed to build several pontoon bridges and advanced towards the small town, where they managed to spread out.
Evgeni’s group destroyed the bridges, but some 80 soldiers and several armored vehicles managed to penetrate. Now, the Moscow troops also count on them and support their artillery attacks with aerial bombardments in the area.
With a pincer strategy, Russia has managed to practically surround Severodonetsk and its adjoining town, Lisichansk. The only road linking the two cities with Ukrainian-controlled territory is now surrounded by towns like Bilohorivka, where Ukrainian and Russian troops are fighting blood and fire. The road itself, riddled with potholes, shrapnel and bomb scars, is under permanent attack. There are hardly any military checkpoints left to cross it. And it can only be done at full speed to try to evade airstrikes from Russian forces.
Evacuations have become difficult from Severodonetsk and Lisichansk, but even if they weren’t, Tatiana Martinova has decided to stay. Petite and frail, the woman has a black eye. She fell down the stairs of the shelter a few days ago, when she had to get to safety fast from an attack. She is more worried about her Pekingese dog, Fenia, than herself. The animal is stressed, it does not eat. Not even milk or special food that the volunteers have arranged for him. “In the end we will both end up dying,” says Martinova, lowering her head.
There is sadness in the besieged cities of Lugansk. On the front, there is tension. In the field hospital of the 24th brigade, a group of soldiers with serious bruises are being treated after a Russian bombardment. The health center has just got electricity back. They have been without running water for weeks. They work tirelessly. And they still fear that a neighbor will reveal his position and bomb him, admits Dr. Borisenko. They have had to change the location several times. The sanitary joined the Army when the war in Donbas began. He is a smiling man, although he is somewhat nervous. He says, convinced, that he believes in Ukraine’s victory: “We don’t have a choice either, only to win. And that Putin, who stupidly says that Russians and Ukrainians are the same people, does not understand. This is a war for freedom, for the ability to decide, for our future.”
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