Conflicts & War

The Ukrainian families separated by Russia’s invasion

By Rostyslav Averchuk

Lviv, Ukraine, Feb 23 (EFE).- Russia’s ongoing war and partial occupation of Ukrainian territory has separated many families, forcing loved ones to keep in touch with scarce and brief phone calls amid hopes the invasion will soon come to an end.

“At least my mum no longer cries at the end of each conversation,” Artem, who prefers not to share his surname, tells Efe.

He hasn’t seen his mother or grandparents for over a year after his hometown Skadovsk, in the Kherson region, was occupied by Russian forces in the early days of president Vladimir Putin’s full-blown invasion.

Network issues in occupied areas make communicating over the phone erratic and unpredictable with many calls ending abruptly after less than a minute.

Many locals have fled, undertaking tiring, risky and costly trips through the frontline or via neighboring countries.

Artem’s mother has to take care of her elderly parents and is also wary of leaving her house as it would likely be taken by Russian soldiers, the young man says.

Many of those who have decided to stay hope that Ukrainian troops will recapture the town soon.

But Artem’s mother fears the city of Skadovsk could face a bloody retaliation if recaptured, as happened elsewhere in Kherson, a region that was unilaterally annexed by Moscow in September last year and has since been the target of Russian shelling.

“I never thought that my mother would become an expert in distinguishing various kinds of weapons, listening to the ongoing explosions,” says Artem bitterly.

People are wary of saying too much over the phone. No one knows whether a call may be intercepted, but Artem says the situation in the occupied seaside town is dire.

“It is clear from what the Russians do that they know they are not planning to stay there for long,” he adds.

According to the young man, public services are falling into disrepair while looting by invading forces is rampant.

“Their officers drive foreign-produced cars that they took away from the locals while common soldiers are now stealing even old Zhiguli cars,” Artem adds.

A large number of boats, including one owned by his family, as well as the whole pier, have also been stolen and sent to Crimea, he adds.

“Some people had spent their whole life saving for a boat. Now it’s all gone.”

Tetiana, who fled to Lviv from Starobilsk, in Luhansk, while pregnant and with her six-year-old son, has also been separated from her parents and family who were reluctant to leave their homes and did not expect such a swift takeover by Russian troops.

“It’s the first time in my life that I’ve been away from them for so long,” she tells Efe.

Her father died recently and she can only get in touch with her mother by calling her Russian phone number from a pre-paid app on the internet.

Russian forces have cut off mobile network services and destroyed internet infrastructure networks in many occupied areas.

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