Mikeal just turned 60, wants to retire, although he can’t because he can’t find his papers. But war knows no bureaucracy: his documents are under the rubble of a falling apart house since on March 30 several missiles hit his neighborhood. Mikeal lost most of his belongings at his home in the Darhichi neighborhood of Kharkiv.
Outside his house the ruin is not appreciated, now divided by a path that runs through the garden and crosses the orchard. The atmosphere of panic is breathed everywhereeven the dog has to be reassured by his wife.
Every day, Mikeal arms himself with patience to look for his papers. It is not an easy task, since each piece of foundation that he moves can move the rest. But finding the documents is very important to him, who has been working and building his house all his life. He would have everything by the time he manages to get hold of his pension. The place where he lived has been exposed to the elements, as has his entire life. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen. It is a cold spring marked by a conflict that sees no end.
Now he remembers the day his plans were blown up. “We thought it was our last day of life, I swear!” She assures. She invites you to go slowly. You have to dodge and walk carefully with each step.
“We see war every day”
A towel hangs from what was a bathroom. Pieces of blocks draw the silhouette of what would have been a habituation, and everywhere there are remains of the puzzle of a life that is difficult to restore. He doesn’t want to complain. Lena, his wife, wouldn’t let him either. During the visit, she is in the garden, she spends the day growing the vegetables that until recently were sold in the market and that now is her only livelihood. “Our second floor is destroyed,” says the woman., who does not take off her apron, while going up the stairs. The entire roof collapsed. “Come, I’ll show you more damaged sites,” she says. And that it seemed that there was no room for more destruction.
“The ground was shaking. When we came out of the basement and saw this terrible image… but, you know, we’re happy to be alive,” he says as he inhales polluted air. Remember how they heard the impact of the missiles. “We live in a zone of hostilities, we see war every day,” she adds. They have not been specific days, the conflict is experienced every day. “We’ve gotten used to throwing ourselves to the ground or hiding when we hear the bombs,” he adds. He cannot foresee anything.
Mikeal and Lena preferred not to leave this neighborhood in northwestern Kharkov. “We will try to rebuild everything the best way we can, not now; They told us that there is no point in rebuilding it at this time because we don’t know when the war will end,” they say, as we descend into the basement of their house.
An old bed and a damaged mattress covered with a threadbare white sheet make up the scarce marriage trousseau, the gloomy space with hardly any ventilation is adorned with the few belongings that they have managed to rescue. They don’t want this place to be photographed; They say that they feel modesty and shame when portraying their poverty, a sudden poverty and to which they do not finish getting used to.
Lena, however, proudly displays the kitchen she has organized in another room that has been saved from destruction. Her precariousness does not make her lose her customary hospitality: she offers us some fresh radishes that she has just picked from the garden, and she makes it clear that even if they have to live among rubble, they do not want to leave her house. “The war has trapped us here. We’ve gotten used to this place. We stay here. Of course, sometimes, we are afraid”, they say.
“Come on, don’t be afraid. follow me Fridge, walls, doors, just look! There is nothing left.” The house is in critical condition. The bricks just fall off. “Look there! Í”, she points with her index finger at the remains of an unusable table. “We did everything we could, that was our table for dinner. That was how we lived,” she repeats with sorrow in her voice. The doors and windows seem to have been ripped out by the shock wave of the bombs. “When there were no intense attacks, no projectiles on our heads, we went to our garden, our field; we till the land, plant some potatoes, tomatoes. We try to survive, what else can we do!”
Live with the front close
This neighborhood is just 12 kilometers from the center of Kharkov, and before the war it housed some 18,000 people. His sentence is to be near the border with Russia. The projectiles have targeted civilians, civil infrastructure, hospitals, residential houses. “Yesterday we did a sweep and we realized that they really use rockets,” says Analotoly, a neighbor in the security force.
Many neighbors have left this neighborhood. Analotly explains that, at the beginning of the war, they did not understand the Russian strategy and the disorganized attacks. “The bombings were chaotic, their goal was for the whole of Ukraine to embrace that chaos,” he says. In addition, he recalls that at first the Ukrainian forces did not have the capacity to repel the Russians, but with foreign help they have managed to resist. “The Russians will try to carry out a new offensive operation here”, he says convinced, and goes on to argue that “At first they moved in long columns, then they dug the trenches, did some defense and tried to chaotically attack Derhachi.”
Currently, Russian troops have concentrated large forces not far from Kharkov, an indication that Analotly considers enough to predict that “they will try to capture this territory again”.
The bombings are heard, and the fear does not disappear with the sounds of war in the background. The second largest city in Ukraine continues to be punished by bombing. The withdrawal of the Russian forces and their change of strategy, concentrating all the fire in Donbas, implies a greater concentration of attacks on this locality. The fighting continues and the two armies continue to dispute, village by village, the Kharkov belt.
After three months, the fight continues and the priority is still to survive. Everything else will come back, Lena says hopefully. “Do you see the sky through the roof? In times of war it is uncomfortable.
And the sky has become the obsession of all the survivors who have talked to this medium throughout these three months of war. The sky spits out the worst, it brings death, it’s pain and sadness. This is the sky described by the Ukrainian people three months after the start of the Russian offensive. Until it ends, they remain impassive, waiting for a signal that will allow them to rebuild the sign of peace.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.