Conflicts & War

Locals unfazed by bombings as battle for Kharkiv rages on

By Lourdes Velasco

Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 16 (EFE).- Two and a half months into the battle for Kharkiv has made Oleg an expert in detecting the noise of planes, missiles, grenades and artillery, and even distinguishing Ukrainian fire from that of the Russians.

One does not need to worry about the loud rumble coming from around two-three kilometers away, as this is the Ukrainian artillery pushing back the Russian forces, says Oleg.

The 43-year-old wears a stained tracksuit while standing at his doorway on the main street of Tsyrkuny, a village outside Kharkiv, which had been under Russian control until May 8.

The place has just been liberated along with other settlements near Ukraine’s second largest city, with the Russians apparently giving up on its occupation.

In the background, smoke rises from a military munition depot situated barely a kilometer away, which had been bombed by the Russians a day earlier.

Oleg is unperturbed by the possibility of the Russians returning, although he has experienced the fear of dying from a bomb or his house being destroyed.

Some Russian soldiers had barged into the houses of his neighbors on May 8, although he was left alone.

The Ukrainian often hid in his cellar, hoarding food, even as fierce fighting raged on outside for several weeks.

The village effectively turned into a battlefront, and the debris of anti-tank missiles, unexploded grenades and mines are still scattered around, while the local gas station lies completely destroyed.

Stranded tanks from both militaries and missiles dot the landscape, while civilian vehicles-turned ambulances ferry wounded Ukrainian soldiers from the front, which has now moved two villages away.

Other automobiles are busy carrying humanitarian aid and transporting refugees.

The widespread destruction in Kharkiv, which had a population of 1.5 million before the Russian invasion, has become fully apparent only after the Ukrainian military pushed back the Russians.

This is especially visible in Saltivka, a residential neighborhood in the north that bore the brunt of the bombings.

The police continue to block access to the area, as firefighters and emergency services operate, possibly extracting bodies from under the debris.

In another part of the district, 51-year-old Mikhail stands outside his miraculously intact house, although a bomb has gouged out a two-meter hole in his garden and thrown up his car into a vertical position.

“The government is working to repair it (the house), we hope that after summer we will have a gas connection and heating,” says the man, who has been living with his son due to power and gas being cut off.

However, Mikhail does not complain, being satisfied with just staying alive and having a place to live.

A few kilometers away in the town of Vilkhivka, the bodies of eight Ukrainian soldiers were found in a garden belonging to Yuri, who spent two months under Russian occupation before fleeing during a brief withdrawal in April.

The Russians returned, but were again driven away two weeks ago, leaving behind a destroyed school and the smell of death everywhere, even as the town remains without running water and gas.

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