Yakovlivca, one of the last inhabited towns in Donetsk under kyiv control

Yuri goes out of his way for his neighbors. Every day he takes the road that connects to the Lugansk front to bring basic goods to his store. He is he only establishment still open in Yakovlivcaone of the last towns still controlled by the Ukrainian Army, 15 kilometers from the Lugansk front.

Yuri is 52 years old. He has a lot of work. Prepare one coffee after another for a group of soldiers. The battlefront is close and the incessant sound of artillery can be heard from inside. This is one of the last towns that is still inhabited by civilians, since in general the towns in dispute are completely militarized.

This neighbor in a navy blue sweatshirt and eyes tired from little sleep, she goes out every day with her son to bring groceries in order to meet the needs of the local population that is reluctant to leave. Feel the responsibility to do it. “They still bring me bread, but everything else I have to get from other larger cities,” she says.

Yuri, owner of the only store that remains open in Yakovlivca, the last inhabited town that remains under Ukrainian control in Lugansk ROUGH PAUL

regrets that most of the people left are elderly or those humble families who cannot afford to migrate. Also, there are those who are convinced that, if they do not take a stand, they can live under the occupation. It is difficult to get used to war, but they have been suffering from it in the Donbás since 2014. In fact, now only a third of the thousand inhabitants who lived here before the outbreak of the conflict remain.

the sounds of conflict

The sound of the artillery and the engine of the war vehicles mix with that of the peasants’ tools or the mooing of the cows. The ears they miss the silence that should reign in a rural area. Here you live from the countryside and from the metallurgical companies. On the horizon, columns of smoke act as a curtain against the spring clouds.

Yuri stays despite the threat: “And who will feed the people? Grandma, grandpa… where will they get the bread from?”he wonders while is aware that at any moment they can attack them. Although she has decided to stay, it does not mean that she is not afraid. “Only stupid people are not afraid.”

Only the stupid are not afraid

your only hope is that the Ukrainian Army resists. In addition, they feel protected by the river that surrounds the city. The Russian Army builds bridges every day to be able to advance by land, but they are counterattacked by the Ukrainian armed forces.

The resurgence of the conflict in the last three months has made him change the route to get his products, before everything came to him by the Kharkov route, however, now he tries to transport the merchandise from Dnipro. “There are checkpoints everywhere and logistically it is difficult to bring the merchandise,” he concludes.

Life in this village stops beyond the store. Outside of there, you only see those who go out for some errand, but immediately they hold their breath again, taking refuge in their homes. The relative calm with which Vitali smokes in front of the door of his house is striking. He is staring off into the horizon. The clouds of smoke do not stop appearing. “Today, half an hour before you came, eight rockets have fallen”, he tells us. She takes another drag on the cigarette. She wears shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt. Spring allows you to at least enjoy the sun.

Around him are a couple of people working in the fields. “I lost my job in a metallurgical factory because it closed, from time to time I work in a furniture factory, but I am almost always in the garden at home”, he says, inviting us to come in. He grows potatoes, lettuce, onions and strawberries. His wife, Yulia, and their two daughters entertain themselves in the vegetable plot.

Vitali with his wife Yulia and their daughters work in the garden of their house in Yakovlivca, Ukraine ROUGH PAUL

This house is named after her grandmother, with a patio converted into an orchard and a blue door that leads to the basement and breaks the monotony of the white wall of the facade. The shelter behind the blue door is a tiny, gloomy, dank place that protects them when the sounds of shelling intensify.

Two months in a basement

Until 2014, he lived in Horlivska, currently controlled by Russia. “I took refuge for more than two months in a basement when the war began eight years ago“, he remembers. He stops to tell us how he lived under the occupation: “It’s hell.” He remembers that the living conditions back then were also very hard: “We had no food or medicine. there were many horrors; I witnessed many of these horrors”; summarizes. There was also no freedom of expression. “If they (the Russians) come, I will definitely run away,” she explains. “The evacuation is not easy either, the roads are dangerous, they could attack us with a rocket at any moment” due to the instability of this entire area, he says.

That’s why now refuses to live under the control of Moscow forces. “I’m going to hold out as long as I can and if they come I’ll leave with my family,” she says. He explains to us that she fears for the mental health of her daughters, who see how “the missiles fall and the damage they do.” “What can I do? Nothing is in my hands,” he laments. For now, this 33-year-old father of two girls will try not to leave his house again.

Vitali lives with his wife and two children in his grandmother’s house in Yakovlivca, Urania. ROUGH PAUL

He compares the situation to the conflict that broke out in 2014 and sees it as a much more active and larger-scale war scene. This Friday, the soldiers of Ukrainians expelled Russian troops beyond the Severski Donets River, which crosses the Donbas and is key to the control of regions throughout the east of the country, including Kharkov. There they focus their offensive efforts on achieving total control of towns such as Rubizhne, in Lugansk province, and have destroyed the bridge that connects it with Sievierodonetsk to hinder the movements of Ukrainian troops, according to Ukrainian agencies. In addition, this territory also has pro-Russian authorities after having unilaterally declared itself an independent republic.

The Ukrainian Army claims that in Lugansk the Russians opened fire this Thursday up to 31 times. Local agencies report that “on the Lugansk and Donetsk fronts, the Ukrainians have repulsed a total of 18 enemy attacks in the last 24 hours,” which gives an idea of ​​the intensity of the Russian offensive.

In the afternoon poses a sunset contaminated by war. The time has come to store in the cellars, the night is always harder. A peasant collects his material, two neighbors return home by bicycle, a herd of cows passes by with a shepherd on a motorcycle and, shortly after, several armored vehicles go to the front. Yulia takes her daughter in her arms and holds her tightly, while she watches a parade of tanks in perplexity. After a while she closes the door with a gesture of resignation from those who have normalized the daily life of the war.

In Yakovlivka they have been watching how rockets fly over their sky for many days. Dodging the attacks has become his only mission, although nothing is in his hands. A few kilometers from the battlefront, surviving is a matter of luck.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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