In Ukraine’s Donbass, Slovensk city continues despite Russian bombings: NPR Pipa News

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A man stands in front of a pit created by a missile attack in Sloviansk on Sunday morning.

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A man stands in front of a pit created by a missile attack in Sloviansk on Sunday morning.

Claire Harbage/NPR

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — When you enter this small town in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region, a metal sign above the street greets you saying, “Slovinsk is Ukraine.” More than six months after the Russian invasion, it still is.

The front line of Russian-occupied territory to the east – where fierce fighting has come to a standstill in recent weeks – is about 10 miles away. Ukrainian officials have ordered evacuations, saying resources are scarce and it is too dangerous to live here. Three residential areas of Slovinsk are without electricity, which cannot be repaired in the near future. Most of the night there is a severe fuel shortage and there is constant shelling.

Left: In January, a brightly lit kiosk is open at night. Right: In August, the kiosk is closed and vines grow over it.

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Left: In January, a brightly lit kiosk is open at night. Right: In August, the kiosk is closed and vines grow over it.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Despite all this, and in the mostly closed city centre, about 20% of the residents – about 20,000 people – live, according to Svitlana Vyunichenko, the mayor’s spokesman.

Among them are Oksana Morgun and her longtime friend Oleksandr Olyarov. They’re biking home together for safety; A habit he started when the war broke out.

“we sleep apart” [as couples] But everything else is together,” says Morgan, who is neighbors with her husband, Olyarov and their family. They have a bag of grapes tied to a bright orange bike. Many people here travel by bike because Electricity is spotty and there is no public transport anymore.

Oleksandr Olyarov (left) rides his bicycle with Oksana Morgun through the center of Slovyansk.

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Oleksandr Olyarov (left) rides his bicycle with Oksana Morgun through the center of Slovyansk.

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The two friends are in constant touch, especially at night, when the city is under fire.

“When night comes and missiles start to rumble, we’re on the phone: ‘Everything okay? Everything okay? Everything okay?’ We ask each other out,” says Morgan. “It’s really hard. We survive, we don’t.”

Left: In January, a man walks through a painted pedestrian tunnel. Right: In August, the shop next to the tunnel is climbed.

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Left: In January, a man walks through a painted pedestrian tunnel. Right: In August, the shop next to the tunnel is climbed.

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A bed of roses rises in the central square in Slovinsk.

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A bed of roses rises in the central square in Slovinsk.

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Most of the shops in the city center have been occupied, public gardens and parks have been overgrown and buildings have been damaged by recent shelling. Some coffee shops remain open, mostly for groups of Ukrainian soldiers stopping by for coffee and resting before heading back to the front.

“We are stationed nearby,” says a soldier who goes by the call sign Petrovich. He doesn’t want to use his full name for security reasons. He says the lines haven’t moved much in recent weeks, and the standoff for soldiers means you’re constantly on edge without doing anything.

Soldiers walk through the entrance of a coffee shop in downtown Sloviansk.

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Soldiers walk through the entrance of a coffee shop in downtown Sloviansk.

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A soldier who walks past the call sign Petrovich holds a string of pearls while he sits outside a coffee shop in Sloviansk.

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A soldier who walks past the call sign Petrovich holds a string of pearls while he sits outside a coffee shop in Sloviansk.

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According to the mayor, a recent missile attack here left a crater along residential boulevard, and damaged eight residential buildings and a school. The damage attracted many onlookers, mostly older residents who live in nearby buildings.

Lyudmila Fakhrutdinova and her neighbors stop at a local church to look at the way home from receiving humanitarian aid. Thanks to Ukrainian and international donors, their bags are filled with food and clothing. She says she had just finished watching a movie the night before when she heard the explosion. He and his neighbors are spending the night in the hallway of their building because their bedroom has windows.

Left: In January the lights of residential buildings come on at dusk. Right: In August, a woman looks at the damage caused by an early morning strike on a residential building.

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Left: In January the lights of residential buildings come on at dusk. Right: In August, a woman looks at the damage caused by an early morning strike on a residential building.

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Lyudmila Fakhrutdinova passes through central Sloviansk after an early morning missile attack on her way back from church on Sunday.

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Lyudmila Fakhrutdinova passes through central Sloviansk after an early morning missile attack on her way back from church on Sunday.

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For Victoria Batichenko, it is painful to see the damage.

“I feel utter despair,” Butichenko says, as she cries. “I think of those who lost their homes.”

Their grief has deepened, she says, because of the history here. Sloviansk was the first city to be captured by Russian-backed fighters in 2014. Ukraine claimed back soon after, and Batychenko says he worked hard to rebuild.

“We are Ukrainians,” she says, “we have always been part of Ukraine. I want to be in Ukraine.”

Lyubov Mahli, 75, nearby, listens to the conversation with an orange handkerchief tied around his head. She points to a building just outside the missile pit. “This is my house,” she says. “I saw the missile last night. But by now we’re used to it.”

Lyubov Mahli recited a poem she wrote about peace in the Donbass while she stood in front of a building that morning.

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Lyubov Mahli recited a poem she wrote about peace in the Donbass while she stood in front of a building that morning.

Claire Harbage/NPR

She herself lives in an apartment on the fifth floor. Her husband passed away and her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have all left Slovensk for the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and other parts of Europe.

There was no water in the city for months, so Mahli had to climb five steps and carry jaggery. About two weeks ago, officials restored the water supply, so water finally returned to her apartment, although, she says, it’s difficult.

Left: In January, people pass in front of an open kiosk in central Sloviansk. Right: In August, the kiosk is closed and a man rides his bike.

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Left: In January, people pass in front of an open kiosk in central Sloviansk. Right: In August, the kiosk is closed and a man rides his bike.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Still, she doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon. Who will look after his house, keep his apartment safe? she asks.

“I can’t go,” she says. “I don’t want strangers in my house.”

She spends days writing and reciting poetry.

She shares one with NPR about bringing peace to her home:

“I’m waiting for peace

Although it makes us wait so long

our patience is not over yet

Peace is near, we are waiting impatiently

have peace

so hope

and let the storms go

Long live Donbass and Slovinsk!”

Victoria Batichenko rides her bike in central Sloviansk, where missiles were fired on Sunday morning.

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Victoria Batichenko rides her bike in central Sloviansk, where missiles were fired on Sunday morning.

Claire Harbage/NPR

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