“No matter what, life must go on”
People take risks by cycling or walking just to buy food or other necessities. The streets of Bakhmut’s city center were deserted, except for soldiers running for cover and stray dogs looking for food.
This is the city of Bakhmut, Russia’s main immediate military target and one of the most dangerous places on earth today.
This city of about 80,000 inhabitants before the war, is known for its sparkling wine factory. Now, Bakhmut is only a few thousand people who face a daily struggle for survival.
Svitlana Zayarna, a 64-year-old resident, said: “Every trip – to the store, the barbershop, meeting friends – in Bakhmut could be your last. But somehow life has to go on.”
The most dangerous front line of the war
The city of Bakhmut has been on the front lines of Russia’s assault on Ukraine since 2014.
Currently, Russian forces are besieging the city from the north, east and south.
The population of the city has decreased. Authorities have urged people to leave. However, many people lack the resources, physical strength or will to leave.
Some fret not to leave, as stories tell of people leaving to the western city of Dnipro and back to Bakhmut after running out of money. The rest are the old, the sick, the indifferent, and the “zhduny” – those who await the arrival of Russia.
A 62-year-old resident of Bakhmut said she sees no reason to move to Dnipro, a major center for refugees, because “the Russians will take it too”. She describes herself as a “Soviet” who longs to return to a time when Russia and Ukraine were at peace.
Life in Bakhmut has gone underground
The basement of a former cultural center in Bakhmut is now home to dozens of residents. The suites are lit from flashing lights mounted on concrete walls. In this basement was full of body odor and the smell of food cooking on a small stove by the entrance.
More than 20 beds line the long corridor. This is where half a dozen children sit wearing masks to prevent them from spreading adult colds.
Side doors lead to separate bedrooms. Laughter echoed in the dining room behind the old rug hanging from the ceiling. In the far corner, a small washing machine rattled on a spin.
People mark birthdays and anniversaries. 40 underground shelters come together to celebrate New Year’s Eve and give presents to 11 children living with them. All sang patriotic songs and ate traditional Ukrainian food.
“For a moment, everything was almost normal,” said a 54-year-old security guard who oversees bomb shelters with his 19-year-old son.