Elderly Ukra*nians And Their Pets Stay Put In The Abandoned East


Praca, Oferty Pracy

Elderly Ukra*nians and their pets stay put in the abandoned east

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“God bless me,” says Tamara, 73. She is one of the few who remained in the city of Konstantinovka in eastern Ukra*ne.


“If there is a need, God will save me. If not,” she adds with a shrug, “so it is.

Tamara has been living in the same apartment for the past 40 years. Her son, a drug addict, as she casually says, is in Russ*a. Her husband is long dead. Now it’s just her and her cat.

Konstantinovka is 22 kilometers, about 13.5 miles, east of the town of Bakhmut, where some of the fiercest fighting in the war took place.


Tamara waits for the bus home, sitting on a broken wooden bench in the square, which also serves as the city’s main taxi rank.

On this day, there is only one taxi with a sign on the windshield offering to get to the Dnieper, four hours west, away from the front line. There are no takers.

From time to time the air is shaken by distant explosions.

Stray dogs roam the center of the square in search of leftovers. The last time I was here in January, they were hanging around in the sandwich and kebab shops. All shops are now closed.


On the ground next to Tamara is a bag containing her purse and a few groceries. She says she cannot live on her monthly pension of about fifty dollars. She supplements it with the food of the soldiers passing through the city. When all else fails, she says, she pleads.

Tamara wears worn and dirty white sneakers, the laces are untied. Her feet don’t reach the ground.

Earlier this week, rockets hit an apartment building in Konstantinovka, killing six people.

While waiting for the bus, Tamara quickly crosses herself.


Cities and villages close to the battlefields are mostly abandoned. As the fighting in Bakhmut continues – fighting has been going on for more than seven months – Russ*an shells and rockets are raining down on settlements far from the front lines.

What passes for normal life is a thing of the past here. Windows were shattered in many houses and apartment buildings in Konstantinovka. The remaining residents nail plastic film to the window frames to keep them warm.

Running water and electricity are intermittent at best.

In the courtyard of a dilapidated Soviet-era apartment building, Nina, 72, surveys the rubble surrounding her. An incoming missile hit the barn, shattering trees, scattering mangled sheets of metal in all directions, and scattering shrapnel along the surrounding walls.

“I’m on my last breath of survival,” she sighs. “I’m on the verge of seeing a psychiatrist.”

What keeps her sane, she tells us, are her flatmates – five dogs and two cats.

“In the market they tell me I should feed myself, not my cats and dogs,” she says, a smile on her wrinkled face.

As we speak, another old woman in a dirty winter coat makes her way past, dragging a bunch of branches to heat her house.

An eerie metallic creak echoes through the yard as a girl of 10 or 11 swings on a rusty swing. Her face is blank. For more than half an hour she walks back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Since shortly after the outbreak of the war more than a year ago, Ukra*nian officials urged residents of the communities most affected by the fighting to evacuate to safer places.

Many have heeded the call, but often the elderly, the infirm, and the poor insist on staying where they are. And no matter how hard they try to convince the hesitant, the government does not have the strength and resources to forcibly evict them.

In the city of Siversk, northeast of Bakhmut, there were almost no undamaged buildings left. On the main road, artillery shells left gaping holes, now full of water.

At the entrance of the apartment building, Valentina and her neighbor, also named Nina, took a breath of fresh air. They ignore the Soviet-era armored personnel carrier parked next to the house across from them.

Every night, and often almost every day, Nina and Valentina have to huddle in their basement, which also serves as a bomb shelter. Nina’s husband is disabled and never leaves the basement.

There is no running water, no electricity, no internet, so mobile communications. I found only one small store open.

Valentina struggles to look on the bright side. “It’s all right,” she replies in a loud, confident voice when I ask how she is. “We tolerate everything!”

“What do we feel?” Nina answers with a trembling voice. “Pain. Pain. When you see something destroyed, you cry. We cry. We cry.”

Valentina’s mask falls off, she nods, and her eyes fill with tears.


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