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Living underground at the forefront of the Russian offensive

#Living #underground #forefront #Russian #offensive

Svitlana Klymenko is restless with anger, but has nowhere to go.

She has devoted most of her life to working in a salt mine in the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine.

But now, in her retirement, she’s forced to make an underground home in the city of Soledar, besieged by Russian forces and under constant shelling.

“I just want to live, grow old normally, die a normal death, not be killed by a missile,” the 62-year-old told AFP.

But her meager pension means she doesn’t have the means to escape the battlefield and start a new life.

“How am I supposed to live? On humanitarian aid? Ask for food with outstretched hand?” she asks, pacing the damp cave beneath an apartment block where she now spends three-quarters of her time.

“We’re hoping for the best, but it’s getting worse and worse every day,” she lamented, while her gold teeth caught the sparse light in her makeshift home.

– ‘How should I feel?’ –

Russia called off its offensive against the Ukrainian capital in late March, refocusing its efforts on Donbass, where the Kremlin has supported separatists since 2014.

The battle was grueling, devolving into an artillery duel between troops dug in around strategic settlements and hidden in hedgerows and forests that fringed vast tracts of land.

There are signs that Russia is again redeploying its forces, this time to repel an alleged Ukrainian counter-offensive along the south coast.

However, the attack on Soledar – near the larger town of Bakhmut – was “its most successful axis in Donbass” in the past month, according to the UK MoD.

White and black smoke smears the horizon over Soledar and the road into town is dotted with tank tracks as Ukrainian vehicles stream in and out from the north and west.

Every few moments, the eerie urban stillness is broken by the pounding bang of cluster bombs and incoming artillery, throwing dust into the scorching summer sky.

Despite the city’s industrial sector being constantly bombed, the gold and blue Ukrainian flag still defiantly waves at its highest point.

To escape the deadly fight above, Klymenko lives downstairs in a semi-underground basement.

Around 60 people were living here – some for three months – but a shell fell last week, killing one man and almost all fled, she said.

Now it has been left to Klymenko, her husband and another man – 59-year-old Oleg Makeev – as well as a caged parrot and a wandering cat.

Rooms come with narrow beds, dangling headlamps, and crudely improvised kitchens stacked with canned goods, bottled water, and instant coffee.

“You can’t cook anything here normally, you can’t wash yourself. How am I supposed to feel?” Makeev falls silent.

– face of freedom –

Outside the city limits, Ukrainian soldiers swarm the roadside, their vehicles parked in the shade, hidden from Russian aerial reconnaissance.

Locals no longer pause to stare at the smoke on the horizon, nor shy away from the ripping sound of explosion impacts.

There are rumors that the Russians may already be within the city limits, and both Bakhmut and the nearby larger town of Kramatorsk bear signs that the defenders there are preparing for urban fighting.

One soldier, 27-year-old Mykhailo, wanders down the road leading to Soledar with his rifle.

The word “Freedom” is etched in cursive tattoo ink above one eye.

But the soldiers were also forced to live underground.

“We’re sitting in the trenches,” says Mykhailo. “There is a lot of artillery, mortars, and we cannot react, we have nothing.”

“They will advance further,” he suspects. “We hide more than we do anything useful.”

Social Tags:
#Living #underground #forefront #Russian #offensive

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