Sitting next to a five-story building and removing seeds from cherries, Liudmila says she can no longer bear to live in the basement where she has been staying for three months in Seversk, about 20 km from Lysychansk, in eastern Ukraine.
“Three months ago they [os russos] bombed here, now it’s there”, he tells AFP, showing the small road that passes next to the building and leads to Lysychansk, the last major city that Russian forces intend to conquer in the Luhansk region.
“Bombs fall day and night,” shouts a woman who refuses to say her name, sitting on a bench under a tree at the foot of the building.
Then she gets up, takes her wheelbarrow with two large empty containers, and goes to fetch water from a source a little further away.
“We don’t have electricity or gas, and that’s been going on for three months now,” says Liudmila, while the sound of bombings can be heard in the distance. Piles of white smoke can be seen not far away, over the city of Lysychansk.
Two women bake potato pies at the bottom of the basement stairs, in a pot placed on two bricks and heated over a fire.
One of them shows the AFP journalist his “room” in one of the parts of the basement lit by a flashlight: “look, the mattresses are there, in a corner, and they are spread out on the floor” at night.
In the next partition, a 90-year-old woman leans on a walker in the shadows. She needs medicine, but it is impossible to find them here, says a family member.
There are no longer any pharmacies open in the small town and the stores have almost all been closed for two weeks.
– ‘Service in the basement’ –
“You have to go far to buy something and nobody can take you,” complains a young man who passes by the building. “Wouldn’t you have toilet paper lying around?” he asks the AFP journalist.
Another resident, Viacheslav Kompaniets, remains in his first-floor apartment, where all the windows were shattered by an explosion in March as Russian forces tried to approach Seversk, before being repulsed by the Ukrainian army.
Next door, a small fire station building was destroyed by a missile, leaving only rubble.
At the end of May, Vyacheslav suffered a stroke in his apartment: “I was treated in the basement”, due to the proximity of the bombings, confirms the 61-year-old man.
Living in a place open to the four winds is possible in the summer, but when autumn arrives, “you will have to close everything”, he says, without knowing with what resources he will be able to do it.
Between now and autumn, residents interviewed by AFP hope that the Russian offensive is over, but for now, they live each day without knowing what will happen the next.