Viktoria Miroshnichenko has just reopened her toy shop in Kramatorsk, a town near the front line in eastern Ukraine, despite daily bombings in the distance.
“It’s a little scary, but we’re getting used to it,” she said from behind the counter of a store that sells children’s stuffed animals, bikes and scooters.
The shopkeeper said she has been unemployed for nearly three months without receiving any significant government assistance.
Her shop, like many others in Kramatorsk, was closed after the Russian invasion began on February 24.
But in recent weeks, shops have gradually reopened and residents have returned to the city in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.
“On my street, where there are about 300 houses, the residents were almost all gone. Now almost all of them have come back,” Miroshnichenko said.
Kramatorsk, a large city in the heart of what is left of Ukrainian-controlled Donbass, is bouncing back to life despite Russian artillery bombardments near Sloviansk, Siwersk and Bakhmut.
But according to Oleg Malimonienko, who just reopened his restaurant, people have no choice but to return home.
“In 99 percent of the cases, it’s because they eat well, pay the rent and have to pay the bills,” says the 54-year-old.
Malimonienko hopes customers – including some of the Ukrainian soldiers roaming the city – will flock to his restaurant.
For Natalia Kirichenko, soldiers are an invaluable source of income. The clerk said military personnel are regular customers and bought most items, especially knives and daggers.
“Like us, many people have returned to Kramatorsk, but they have no money,” added the 56-year-old, saying she had no choice but to return to work.
Although she received state aid while the store was closed for three months, she said it was nowhere near enough to make ends meet.
– “We feel the threat” –
“When we hear a fairly heavy bombardment from one side or another, we feel the threat and wonder what to expect,” said a resigned Kirichenko.
Miroshnichenko said the hardest part about getting to work without a car was the unpredictable nature of using public transport in wartime.
“The tram stops every time the bomb sirens go off,” she said. The alarm sounds several times a day and Miroshnichenko has had to walk 50 minutes to her shop since it reopened.
Struggling to get around in Kramatorsk has prompted Vladimir Pozolotin’s cycling center to resume operations, the store clerk said from the basement of a building.
“Many have asked me on my YouTube channel when we would reopen because some are afraid to take the car. Others don’t have gas or don’t want to stand in long lines at gas stations,” he explained.
“So you buy a bike or have it repaired,” says the 33-year-old, who commutes four kilometers between home and work every day.
The number of customers is only 10 percent of the pre-war period, but “better than nothing,” says the young man with a smile.
Pozolotin has remained in Kramatorsk throughout the war and says he has become accustomed to the distant rumble of shells, which the city is sparing for the time being.
“If it falls around here, we’ll see,” he said.
As for the prospect of a serious threat to the city, he is unequivocally committed to Kramatorsk.
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