Discontent on new battle line for Donbas

AFP , Saturday 25 Jun 2022

The prolonged roar of Grad rockets can be heard as locals in the east Ukrainian town of Siversk crowd around a van selling essentials such as bread, sausages and gas for camp stoves.

Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk on June 23, 2022, amid Russia s military invasion launched on Ukraine. AFP


"Everyone is suffering. All of us here are trying to survive," says Nina, a 64-year-old retiree, pushing a bicycle.

"There's no (mains) water , no gas, no electricity... We have been living for three months now under shelling. It's like we're in the Stone Ages."

The small town of mainly village-style single-storey houses on dusty roads has become a new frontier in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops have given up defending the ravaged city of Severodonetsk and now face a battle with Russians seeking to encircle neighbouring Lysychansk.

Siversk is the last major town en route to Lysychansk -- albeit along roads that are severely damaged and under shelling -- and has Russian forces encroaching from the north and south.

Local people, many of them retirees, complain they feel abandoned by Kyiv.

"The town has really died. And we would like to live a little bit longer," says Marina, 63, a retired factory worker.

"They're just basically killing us. It's dangerous everywhere," says Nina.

"No one needs us, there's no help from the government."

"Ukraine has forgotten about us."

"We don't live, we survive," chimes in another woman, Polina, 60, in a bright purple tracksuit.

- 'Batteries are trending' -

Military vehicles including US Humvees and latest-generation US and Soviet-style howitzers, tanks, aid trucks and ambulances constantly pass back and forth through Siversk.

"All day they've been coming," says a policeman at a nearby checkpoint, adding that three vehicles carrying evacuees have gone through "with mainly old people, women and children -- there is movement today".

Driving onto higher ground, dirty smoke rises from a fresh Ukrainian missile launch.

The street van in Siversk is a commercial operation, bringing goods including Polish food from the city of Dnipro, some 300 km away, locals say.

"It's expensive, of course," says Nina.

There are also deliveries of humanitarian aid -- AFP journalists saw three Red Cross trucks drive up to municipal offices and unload boxes of food including sunflower oil, tea and buckwheat, as well as hygiene items such as razors.

Municipal official Svitlana Severin asked the Red Cross staff to bring more candles, matches and torches.

"Batteries are trending," she says. "Torches need power and we don't know when we'll get electricity".

The boxes are put in a storage room. Severin says that in order to minimise crowds, they stagger their handouts, with specific days each month for each social group.

- 'Candles needed' -

An older woman comes up to the vans indignantly asking why she cannot access the aid and asking for heart medicine.

There are also local initiatives.

Social worker Svetlana Meloshchenko says she and her helpers go round distributing water in milk churns and have just given out candles, rusks and washing liquids outside the local shop.

"Candles are needed -- people spend nights in their cellar," she says.

"There are a lot of small children, old people, disabled people," she adds, as well as "a lot of people with diabetes".

"Medicines are supplied to hospitals, but not enough for all."

Russian troops are firing artillery on the area around Siversk, according to Ukraine's General Staff.

Nearby, a group of Ukrainian soldiers sprawl in a disused petrol station, eating bread and sausage, their semi-automatic rifles beside them. They say they are going back and forth to the front, without giving details.

"Our cause is the right one," insists one young soldier, while another older, bearded man says: "We don't look at the news."

"When there's really good news, we'll definitely hear about it," he says, smiling.

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