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“How long can we hold out?” people worry in eastern Ukraine

Photo: Yevhen Titov Associated Press une installation électrique en flammes après une attaque russe à Kharkiv, vendredi dernier

Bombings intensify in the Kharkiv oblast, in eastern Ukraine. Massive attacks on the region's energy infrastructure have plunged it into darkness. In the village of Lyptsi, very close to the border with Russia, residents live under fire from bombs and in fear of a new offensive.

“I was in my living room when the explosion blew out the windows. » Aleksander looks at a large crater formed in the middle of his garden: over a square meter, the earth has been pulverized by a missile. “It was last Saturday, it’s not stopping at the moment,” laments the 59-year-old man. A warning siren pierces space, a dire sign of a future Russian attack. Aleksander does not react: “This is the third alert in barely an hour, we hardly pay attention anymore. Russian missiles, day and night, are daily life in Lyptsi. »

Located in eastern Ukraine, near Kharkiv, the village of Lyptsi is only 20 kilometers from the border with Russia. The small town is within range of enemy missiles fired from Belgorod oblast, on the other side. In the adjacent house, Iryna, Aleksander's neighbor, sweeps up the shards of glass spread out on her terrace. A worker takes measurements of his windows. “We need two meters by four,” he tells his colleagues. The latter cover the hole with a thick tarpaulin. “That will at least keep the cold out of the house while we wait to install new windows.”

The workers are employed by the Ukrainian organization Proliska, which operates in the Kharkiv region to “help civilian populations in emergency situations, in coordination with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),” explains Iryna Panchenko, project manager at the NGO. “We are distributing materials to repair the damage caused by the bombings. Wooden planks, plastic to plug the holes created by the explosions and tarpaulins to cover the roofs. This is emergency aid, while waiting for the homes to be properly repaired. »

On the main artery of Lyptsi, a swarm of civilians are gathered around a truck. In this village of only 1,800 souls, hundreds of residents arrive throughout the morning. “This is the distribution point of our association. We come to Lyptsi every week, because Russian attacks are a daily occurrence,” laments Ms. Panchenko. Since last fall, in the Kharkiv region, the pace of strikes “intensifies from one month to the next.”

There are few intact buildings in the town. Some buildings were cut in two by the missiles; schools and hospitals are destroyed. In all the buildings, windows were pulverized. Roofs were torn off houses.

At the foot of the humanitarian aid truck, Valery, 65, installs two wooden planks on his bike. “I live with my wife in the next street. Last Sunday, two of our windows were destroyed by a Russian missile. The bomb damaged at least three surrounding buildings. » Despite the threat, the couple refuses to leave. “Take refuge in a safe place, why not, but to go where ? We are better off at home,” assures Valery.

A new warning siren sounds. In front of the town hall building, Oleksii Savchenko, mayor of the village and head of the military administration since the start of the invasion, points to a crater formed in the middle of the street. “A Russian shell fell in front of the building a few days ago,” he says, looking disillusioned. “Given the situation, we asked families with children, the elderly and the disabled to leave the village. »

Lyptsi and the surrounding areas are vulnerable to enemy attacks. At the start of the war, on February 24, 2022, the village was invaded by the Russian army. Occupied for several months, it was liberated by the Ukrainian army in September of the same year. “Today we fear that the Russians will return. They want Kharkiv,” says resident Olga.

Ukraine’s second city under threat

In the streets of Kharkiv, the hubbub of generators replaced the usual sounds of the city. Since the Russian attack on the country's energy infrastructure on the morning of March 22, the eastern Ukrainian city has been living to the rhythm of power outages every day, from early morning until late afternoon. noon, only buildings with generators are supplied with energy.

Today we fear that the Russians will return. They want Kharkiv.


“We have already experienced these outages in the winter of 2022-2023. This time we are a little better organized to deal with water and electricity cuts,” says Marina, a resident of Kharkiv. “But the most difficult thing is these intense bombings of the last few weeks, the attacks take place almost every night,” she says, looking exhausted. Black circles formed following the short nights of the last few days hollow the bottom of his eyes. “When it comes to power cuts, residents adapt. But the situation is difficult for businesses, they are struggling to survive. »

Coffee and hopes

On Liberty Square, in the city center, Lilia Muntian, Tatiana Siniuhina and Anton Shyhimaha, the three co-managers of the Pakufuda café, install a generator at the entrance. “Anton, go get some fuel!” » shouts Lilia, trying to cover the noise of the engines with her voice.

Since the return of power cuts, the café has limited its products — “no more bread, very few croissants and only filter coffee,” says Tatiana, who is in charge of the place’s bakery. “Generators provide lighting and charge devices that require little energy. But coffee machines and ovens are too powerful. »

Opened in 2019 by these three friends, the Pakufuda café aimed to welcome students from the university, located a few meters away, in a friendly atmosphere, with good quality pastries and board games. Since then, the establishment has gone through difficult trials. After the COVID-19 lockdowns, which now seem distant, it closed its doors for five months at the start of the Russian invasion. opened in summer 2022, it faced the first major outages in winter 2022-2023. “That’s when we bought generators. At least now we are more responsive with power cuts,” says Lilia. To survive, Pakufuda can count on irregular donations from Ukrainian and foreign benefactors. “We would not be able to pay the electricity and gas bills without this aid,” emphasizes Anton, the third co-manager, “nor the repairs during the bombings.”

On January 2, a Russian bomb targeted the neighboring building and destroyed the cafe window. “It was early in the morning. Fortunately, there was no one in the cafe. But we expect new strikes,” worries Lilia. “Financially, it’s a big blow. The bill for the windows came to around 5,000 euros. And now there are these power cuts, generator fuel is very expensive. In recent weeks, the situation has been unbearable. »

“How long can we hold out?” people worry in eastern Ukraine

Photo: Genya Savilov Agence France-Presse People charge their phones at the branch of a private post company that has a generator during a major power outage in the area on March 22.

The business is not profitable, but the three friends want to save the Pakufuda café. “We must preserve social life in Kharkiv, otherwise it will be a victory for the Russians,” assures Lilia. “At the start of the invasion, the city had become a ghost town: civilians had fled or were living underground. » Traumatized, the inhabitants of Kharkiv today aspire to return to a semblance of normal life, she says. “At least with this cafe they have a place to meet. This is very important, especially during power cuts,” she adds with determination.

Beside him, Tatiana seems more worried. His features betray immense fatigue. “We live day by day, in automatic mode. We try to avoid thinking about the intensifying bombings. But how long we can last like this ? I don’t know. »

This report was financed with the support of the Transat-Le Devoir.< International Journalism Fund /i>

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116