Escaping Donbas devastation on a train into the unknown
By Luis Lidón
Dnipro, Ukraine, Jul 1 (EFE).- With bloody combat and devastating bombings encroaching deeper into Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, many residents who had until now resisted evacuation are boarding trains to destinations that are safer but just as uncertain.
“We did not want to leave but we had no other option because everything is becoming more dangerous,” Roman, who like most people who spoke to Efe preferred not to be identified by their surname, says.
Roman and his mother departed Sloviansk on Thursday morning, shortly after a Russian attack on a market near their home injured six people.
The city of Sloviansk is one of Russia’s key targets in the eastern coal mining region of Ukraine after Moscow’s invading troops took control of Severodonetsk.
And while the front line of combat is still a dozen kilometers from Sloviansk, the incessant Russian bombing has already disrupted the city’s gas, electricity and water supplies. Fatal attacks on residential areas are increasingly common.
Roman and his mother Olga were able to board an evacuation train that connects the Donbas city of Pokrovsk with Dnipro in central Ukraine and Lviv in the westernmost region of the country, far from the front line and less affected by the invasion.
“Sloviansk is rather destroyed and we didn’t want to wait until it was too late. We had to go,” Roman tells Efe in Dnipro, the first stop on the train journey.
His mother adds: “The attack (on the market) came at 11am and we decided to leave straight after.”
The pair upped and left their home with few belongings. Olga has brought her cat, which is asleep on the seat next to her, a few bits of clothing and her passport.
“If we had money we would have left sooner,” Roman adds.
“There are still a lot of people in the city,” says Olga. “They’re people who have not had the chance to leave until now. Some don’t have relatives, or are sick and have no-one to look after them.”
Sloviansk is no stranger to war.
In 2014, the city was seized by Russian-backed separatists during the uprising that culminated in a drawn-out war and the proclamation of Moscow-aligned republics in Donetsk and Luhansk, whose de facto power extended over swathes of the industrial Donbas, which comprises the two oblasts.
It was later recaptured by Ukrainian forces.
Many of those boarding the evacuation train out of the Donbas are not sure where they will end up. Some have been provided with the telephone numbers and addresses of NGOs who can help them along the way.
Roman and Olga, both unemployed before the war, want to go to Germany, drawn by the country’s healthcare system — Roman has kidney problems that require specialist treatment.
His illness grants him an exemption from the law preventing men aged 16-60 from leaving the country. The displaced mother and son do not speak English or German, and do not have a clear idea of how to get to Germany.