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stay or go Parents agonize as grenades fall on Bakhmut, Ukraine

#stay #Parents #agonize #grenades #fall #Bakhmut #Ukraine

Four-year-old Tanya started in her mother’s arms with her eyes wide open as the thunder of artillery fire echoed in the battered Ukrainian frontline town of Bakhmut.

Olena has been inventive to try to hide the truth of what is happening from her curly-haired daughter, but her creativity is drying up.

“Sometimes I just turn up the volume on the TV… If I keep telling the kid this is war, I’m going to disturb their mind. But I think she understands,” she told AFP.

“During the last shelling there was (a) shrapnel explosion. Later I talked to my husband about getting humanitarian aid and the kid asked if there would be any shrapnel there,” Olena added.

Bakhmut – one of the few cities in the Donetsk region still under Ukrainian control – is now at the center of Russia’s brutal offensive in the east of the country.

Capture would give Russia control of a strategic highway and supply route, opening the way to the Kramatorsk regional hub.

Olena’s family is one of the few who stayed with their children in Bakhmut, just six kilometers from Russian positions.

More than a third of the 73,000 residents have fled and authorities are insisting on getting everyone out.

The streets are now all but deserted, daily life in a once small, leafy town being shattered by tanks rolling down the street and the constant roar of artillery.

– ‘Everything will be destroyed’ –

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday urged all of the remaining 200,000 civilians still living in the Ukrainian-controlled areas of the battlefield region to leave as soon as possible.

“The more people leave the Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will kill,” he said.

Kyiv has announced a mandatory evacuation order, saying they are aiming to get people out before winter as gas lines for heating have been cut due to the fighting.

But most of those who refuse to leave Bakhmut share a common history: too poor, too ill, too old to start over in a new place.

“My husband’s mother has been bedridden for five years and we can’t leave her alone,” Olena explained.

Recent attacks on the city, which left three dead and many wounded, caused some to reconsider their decision to stay in any case.

Ekaterina and her three children, aged eight, six and two, were waiting for a bus at an evacuation point in Bakhmut.

With tears in their eyes, they said goodbye to their husband and father Artiom, who will stay in Bakhmut “because someone has to”.

A bandage covered part of Ekaterina’s cheek, while her back was covered with bruises and scratches, all from shrapnel.

“We expected everything to be fine and that’s why we waited so long. But that’s not it. I still see a future for my children here because one day the situation will be stable again,” said Artiom.

In the city center, Olena, her husband and daughter get on the little red scooter they all share to get around, with little Tanya being first in line.

“There is nothing more to conquer here. If (the Russians) come to take it, everything will be destroyed,” she said.

“Who is going to rebuild it? How many years will it take our children to rebuild it all?”

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#stay #Parents #agonize #grenades #fall #Bakhmut #Ukraine

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