Trapped on the frontline in the city of Battle for Ukraine – Kyiv Post

This week’s Russian missile attacks on power plants threaten Ukrainian towns with blackouts, but many frontline communities have been under shellfire and without electricity or water for months.

The wine and mining town of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region is still fiercely defended by Ukrainian forces, but its desperate residents have been within range of Russian guns since May.

Once home to 70,000 people, Bakhmut’s tree-lined main streets are quiet and its concrete housing blocks are shell-scarred ruins. Residents of the eastern bank of the Bakhmutka River are increasingly isolated.

Ukrainian sappers demolished the bridge connecting the exposed east bank to the city center on the west side to block any Russian advance.

But that left civilians on the east side dependent on a muddy walkway thrown between the murky waters and broken concrete.

They cross to claim pensions or fetch water and basic foodstuffs, even as artillery fire erupts nearby.

The crossing is too daunting for Oleksandra Pylypenko, 67, who knows her husband Mykola – who has cancer – can barely make it to their basement for shelter from the shelling, let alone cross the rickety bridge.

treacherous passage

There are more sweet purple grapes than they can eat hanging from the vines around their little bungalow, in the shade of the blue-walled wooden church of St Mykola.

And they have buckets of nuts.

But they lack basics like potatoes and onions – and services, like electricity and running water – even as winter and Ukraine’s ongoing battle with Russian forces creeps in. inexorably towards the city.

“Firewood. How can I get it? There’s no way to get it here. I don’t have money to pay for a delivery,” she told AFP , while recounting his situation, first hesitant, then in a flood of tears and emotion.

“No gas, no electricity for three months, no water. Rainwater. I collect rainwater and use it for cooking. If not, how can I get water? »

There was no shortage of rain on Monday.

The dirt roads used by military convoys have been turned into mud and the steep banks of the Bakhmutka that lead to the makeshift pontoon more slippery and treacherous than ever.

The couple are trapped, their children and grandchildren have fled and Mykola, 66, may not make it through the winter, even if the war spares her.

“They said to prepare me, that’s all. What else could they say? I go out and cry so that he doesn’t see me,” Oleksandra said.

“You see? Now it’s dark. What can we do? Nothing. We can’t do anything. And these explosions, we can’t stand them. When will it be over?

Mykola, a former furniture factory worker with lung cancer, said: “When the shelling starts, we run to the basement.”

But Oleksandra looked on with pity: “And now he can’t even go to the basement.

The couple’s modest home, still warm but damp and leaking from the shrapnel-damaged roof, is decorated with religious icons and stands next to an impressive church.

But even the sacred was not spared in the fierce battle for Bakhmut.

The water fountain in front of St Mykola’s gate is padded and wrapped in polythene to protect it from blasts and the windows are boarded up, but the steeple has been pierced by a shell and the walls scarred by cluster bombs.

Church housekeeper Valeriy, 69, takes off her felt hat to show the shell hole that was pierced while hanging on a hook in her work area.

The inhabitants are reluctant to complain about the conduct of the war. Some did not give their full names to reporters, citing fear of being questioned or arrested by agents of an anonymous administration.

heavy weapons

But, with a reputable Russian force led by Wagner Company mercenaries seizing villages near the southern approach to Bakhmut, fighting intensified and artillery fire exchanges broke out daily.

“I have no idea who is bombing,” said Hennady, 66, as he returned from the broken bridge with a metal canister of drinking water strapped to the back of his bike.

“From here, from there, from there. Automatic weapons, heavy machine guns. You never know what they’ll shoot next,” he told AFP, returning home to his adult son, his wife having fled the city.

“She was hysterical, she was shaking,” he explained.

“What has to happen will happen. I go to bed and sleep. I’m not hiding in the basement. My neighbor’s house was hit by shelling. The guest house, the closet, the terrace…”

Wiley C. Thompson