As they wait for an expected counter-offensive, residents near Ukraine’s front lines seek safety, food and companionship in basements.
Ukraine’s southern front lies just seven kilometres from the town of Orikhiv, where some 1,000 residents are trying to survive incessant shelling, waiting for a major Ukrainian offensive. Life is mostly lived in basements where meals are taken and the onset of Spring keep up spirits. Outside there is much destruction.
“It is very sad and makes me tearful,” explained Svitlana Romashko, a social worker who volunteers to work the basement. “I see it every day; I go to work in the morning, there was a house, I go in the evening after work – there is no house any more. It’s very sad and you can cry every day, but you might not. Enemies won’t see me crying.”
The shelter is beneath a local school. People can shower, wash clothes and eat a meal. As the war grinds on, food is becoming increasingly hard to source for soldiers and civilians.
In Kyiv, volunteers are getting creative to feed troops fighting on the front. They are using nuts and dried fruit to make energy bars. They are also adapting a Ukrainian favourite – the traditional beetroot and cabbage soup borscht. They are making a version from dried vegetables which can be rehydrated.
“At the front, the main thing is ammunition and food,” said volunteer Svitlana Kozina. “Food in this form is very convenient because it’s compact. You can keep a package like this in a bag, or even in the pocket of your jacket, wear it. Put it behind your bulletproof vest.”
Sheltering in basements brings some level of safety and communal comfort to people in Ukraine, but there is no guarantee of security. Soldiers and civilians are dying daily. One of the Agence France Presse journalists who contributed much of this report, Arman Soldin, was killed in a rocket attack in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday afternoon.