Responsible for of two large bags, Serguiï leaves her gray brick house and closes the door while her dog barks. Then he gets into a car to be evacuated.
His village, Bogouslavka, in eastern Ukraine, seems peaceful with its geese on the ponds and its cows grazing. But Serguii finally decided to leave after heavy Russian strikes on the town.
The region has become too dangerous as Moscow's soldiers try to retake the nearby town of Kupiansk, which they had already occupied.
Located less than ten kilometers from the front line, this partly destroyed town occupies a strategic position at the top of a hill.
The Russians obtained some advances at the cost of bitter fighting, but the The Ukrainian army claims to be in control of the situation.
The capture of Kupiansk would be a coup for Moscow and a feeling of déjà vu for the inhabitants, after having lived under Russian occupation for more than half of 2022.
Serguii, responsible for two large bags, leaves his house to be evacuated by members of the Ukrainian Red Cross, on September 28, 2023 in Bogouslavka, in eastern Ukraine © AFP – Roman PILIPEY
Faced with attacks from guided aerial bombs, authorities ordered the evacuation of parts of the city and neighboring villages.
The Red Cross takes the residents to the large city of Kharkiv, closer and safer.
Serguii refused to leave for a long time. He is now worried about his animals and poultry, which in principle a neighbor will come and feed.
– “So scared” –
In Kharkiv, he will join his wife and will also see her 18-year-old grandson, who has just entered university.
Serguii (d) from the village of Bogouslavka, waits with a woman in a Red Cross minibus to be evacuated to Kharkiv, on September 28, 2023 in Koupiansk © AFP – Roman PILIPEY
He has tears in his eyes when talking about his hearth. “I really want to go home,” he said, before blurting out: “I don’t want to live anymore!”
In Koupiansk, two residents wait for Serguiï in a Red Cross minibus .
Tatiana, 72, a talkative woman with platinum blonde hair and bright pink lipstick, says she can no longer stand the sound of artillery.
“I'm so scared. I'm shaking all over,” she explains, wishing that the Russians would “drop dead”.
Lyoudmila, 60, shows a big smile. She goes to a friend's house near kyiv. She previously fled Kupiansk before returning.
Today it's “quite scary,” she says, counting herself lucky that most of the windows in her apartment are intact.
“I always say that people should leave,” says Klim — a military call sign –, commander of the Ukrainian Red Cross rapid response unit for the Kharkiv region, who is leading the evacuation.
Russian Grad rockets “do not differentiate” between civilians and soldiers, he emphasizes.
A resident waits in a Red Cross minibus to be evacuated to Kharkiv, September 28, 2023 in Kupiansk, Ukraine © AFP – Roman PILIPEY
He and one of his colleagues put on bulletproof vests to get to Kupiansk.
In the city center, stores are gutted and buildings have windows blown out.
On the open door of a store, a handwritten note warns: “It's empty: everything has already been stolen.”
The silence is broken by the dull and regular sounds of artillery coming from the other side of the Oskil River which crosses the city, where the Russians are positioned.
– “Submitted to the whip” –< /p>
Earlier in the day, the bridge over the river was hit and soldiers erected a barrier to stop the vehicles.
From the heights of Kupiansk, one can see the smoke rising on the opposite bank.
Residents walk past damaged shops and buildings, September 28, 2023 in Koupiansk, Ukraine © AFP – Roman PILIPEY
“The city is empty, a ghost town”, says Marina, 54, leaning on the grocery counter of his daughter.
She says she has “goosebumps” about the Russian occupation and doesn't want to relive it.
“Here we feel free, whereas (under the occupation) we walked as if we were subjected to a kind of whip,” she says.
Ukrainian soldiers are among the a few customers from the stores and the small market, where the traders pack up well before the 6 p.m. curfew.
Sitting there in a sweater and leggings, Lidia, a retired doctor, smiles as she remembers occupation. With a rare word, she openly expresses her support for Russia.
“When the Russians were here, life was wonderful (…) There was no looting and order reigned “, she says.
Chatting with friends outside a store, Volodymyr, 55, explains that he cannot leave because he is in charge of the water network of the city.
He repairs in particular the holes in the pipes caused by the bombings.
“Those who remain (in Koupiansk) are the most steadfast (…) Those who (the Russians) cannot win,” he said.
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