As Russian forces tightened their grip around the city of Bakhmut, the last remaining inhabitants of the city were ready to wait for the worst.
“How can I evacuate?” Natalia Shevchenko, 75, said on February 1 that she was concerned it would be too expensive to leave the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk province, which is witnessing the heaviest fighting in Ukraine.
Shevchenko hid in the basement for so long that she felt “like a mole” when she stepped outside and had to squint. “Don’t worry,” she told the reporter AFP when the shells rang. “They’re far away. I know which way they’re moving.”
Russian forces are trying to close the siege to capture Bakhmut, making it the bloodiest and longest battlefield since Russia launched its military campaign in Ukraine in February 2022.
Despite the West’s relentless aid to Ukraine, Russia recently claimed to have made some progress in the region. Under constant Russian pressure, the Ukrainian army had to withdraw from the neighboring city of Soledar and lose control of several villages on the outskirts of Bakhmut.
The war for Bakhmut turned the city with a population of about 75,000 before the war into a “ghost town” filled with anti-tank defenses and burned-out cars.
Some 7,000 civilians, most of them elderly, still live in the city with no gas, no electricity, no running water, while shells are constantly pouring down and drones are constantly hovering over the air. head. A boy and an old man were killed in a Russian raid on the city on January 31.
Outside the city, Ukrainian soldiers are urgently reinforcing trenches. The river that bisected Bakhmut became an important line in the fighting.
Shevchenko lived on the east coast, venturing daily across the bridge to fetch water. Those who could have been evacuated have already left, while people like Shevchenko seem resigned to their fate.
“There is no need for gas, as long as there is electricity, life will be easier, because then we can heat and cook,” she said. “The worst thing is that the phone network often goes down, making it impossible for me to call my family. I have two children, one in Kiev, the other in Odessa. The children are young, so they have to evacuate their family from home. prior to”.
Nadiya Burdinska, 66, said she has lived in Bakhmut all her life and has no plans to leave.
“Only a fool knows no fear,” she said as she pulled a wooden sack outside the old dormitory building. “Anything can happen. If God is merciful, I will survive.”
To keep warm, Burdinska had to spend $95 on a stove and ask the government to provide firewood to burn. “That’s how we’re living in the 21st century,” she said.
Hong Hanh (Theo AFP)