Conflicts & War

Kharkiv metro shelters hundreds from Russian bombs

By Maria Traspaderne

Kharkiv, Ukraine, Apr 8 (EFE).- Deep underground in the metro of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, hundreds of people shelter from Russian bombs that fall almost every day. While many of its residents have left, others remain underground, some for 44 days of war so far.

Russian troops are just kilometers from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city near the Russian border, and are attacking it from a distance with artillery.

This week the attacks have been constant with several waves of daily explosions, especially on the city’s outskirts, such as the northwestern town of Derhachi, eastern districts such as Saltivka, and in others in the southeast.

When the invasion began, Kharkiv was bombarded from the air, and since then, the shelling has continued. The city council counts 16,000 damaged infrastructures, 1,300 of them residential buildings, and the Ukrainian government has urged the population to leave the entire region in the face of a possible Russian advance.

Many residents then took shelter in its metro stations, which are of Soviet design with large platforms, and today hundreds live there, although the numbers are one-third of what it was at the start of the war, according to its residents.

Now, some stations have beds arranged in the middle of the platforms that their owners occupy only at night when the bombings intensify.

Each one has its own personality, decorated with various objects: a tulip on a bedside table, a book on a chair next to a mattress, a bag of shoes under a mattress, a suitcase, or a table with breakfast prepared and covered with a cloth.

On other platforms, residents stay day and night and have set up makeshift apartments in train carriages. One tenant is Anastasia, a psychologist for disabled children who has been underground for six weeks. Between two columns she has strung two parallel ropes, from which pants, jumpsuits and baby shirts hang.

On the floor on some blankets, her six-month-old son, Artem, puts a toy in his mouth. Every day, says the mother, they go out for a walk when the bombing eases, but they will stay there for now.

She and her husband, who reads a book, lived on the first floor of an old, unsafe house, she says, and decided to go underground.

“We didn’t think this was going to last so long. We thought we were going to be here for a week, and now life here is getting difficult,” she says.

At first, they slept on the platform because the carriages were occupied, but when people left, they moved into one of the free spaces. They have Artem’s clothes and toys there and they sleep on top of a few blankets on the floor between the seats.

They receive food from restaurants that offer it, and get water from a fountain next to some lockers.

“We feel safe here. In other cities they don’t have a refuge as safe as the subway,” says Anastasia, unaware that in Ukrainian towns further west, life is relatively quiet, without bombs.

On her platform there are now about 35 people, including a mother with her three girls who play from one side to the other. Before, there were three times as many, says Anastasia.

On a bench, watching a video on a tablet, is Larissa, 70. At the first question, she becomes inconsolable.

“It’s too much pain, I can’t take it,” she says, hardly able to breathe from anguish. She has only been in the metro for five days, and hasn’t been outside for even a minute.

Her daughter and her grandchildren, she says, fled to Poland and she stayed in a house basement with her 40-year-old son, but she was so afraid of the bombs that she asked him to move to the metro.

Her town, she says, was on the front line. “All the windows were broken and we put up wooden planks. This is the safest place.”

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