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Last Residents of East Ukraine Ghost City Brave Russian Bombs


A soldiers stands in a street in Severodonetsk, in eastern Ukraine's Donbass region, on April 13, 2022 as Russian troops intensified a campaign to take the strategic port city of Mariupol, part of an anticipated massive onslaught across eastern Ukraine.

Maria hugged her 6-year-old son, Maxim, close as the sound of shelling echoed nearby on Wednesday in Severodonetsk, an eastern Ukrainian city under fire.

She did not want to flee her home, even though the bombing from Russian forces meant most residents had left.

"There's no electricity, no water," said the young woman, who lives with her husband and mother-in-law.

"But I prefer to stay here, at home. If we leave, where will we go?"

Severodonetsk is the most easterly city still held by Ukrainian forces. It has become a deserted shell of its former self as Russia's invading troops have made it a key target.

"The bombings? It's like this all the time," Maria said, after another explosion.

The front line is close. The city, with more than 100,000 inhabitants before the war, is almost empty.

About 400 civilians have been buried there since the war began, according to the Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Gaiday.

People board a bus leaving Severodonetsk, in eastern Ukraine's Donbass region, on April 13, 2022 as Russian troops intensified a campaign to take the strategic port city of Mariupol, part of an anticipated massive onslaught across eastern Ukraine.
People board a bus leaving Severodonetsk, in eastern Ukraine's Donbass region, on April 13, 2022 as Russian troops intensified a campaign to take the strategic port city of Mariupol, part of an anticipated massive onslaught across eastern Ukraine.

Calls to evacuate

The weather was miserable on Wednesday as cold rain poured from the grey sky and filled potholes in the roads.

The conditions were not favorable for the feared major offensive that Ukraine believes Moscow's forces are massing for as they look to claim the entire Donbas region for two separatist areas.

The front-line positions have not moved for a few days as both sides rely on their artillery.

A handful of people braved the search for supplies on a broad street leading from the city center to a wood, beyond which the Russians were camped.

As strikes sounded, they hurried along, crouching close to the walls.

An AFP team passed an elderly man walking next to a woman.

"I'm looking for something to drink. This woman wants bread. But they don't sell it," Yury said.

"I am afraid, very afraid, but I am 70 years old, so I don't show it," he said.

He needs medicine for his aching joints and leg, but "there are no doctors, no nurses, and all the pharmacies are closed."

The governor has called on people to evacuate the government-held Luhansk region, of which Severodonetsk is the capital.

A small yellow bus was parked in front of the cultural center, the meeting place for people wanting to be evacuated.

Tamara Yakovenko, 61, came with her 83-year-old mother.

Four other people waited with them at the pickup point.

"We have to leave. ... Here we have to stay in the basement. It's horrible. Every 10 or 15 minutes there are bombings," Yakovenko said.

"We used to receive humanitarian aid, but now nobody remembers us. Some people try to cook outside on a fire. ... And boom, boom ... everyone has to run back to the basement. All night until morning, there is no rest."

People walk in a street of Severodonetsk, in eastern Ukraine's Donbass region, on April 13, 2022.
People walk in a street of Severodonetsk, in eastern Ukraine's Donbass region, on April 13, 2022.

Ukrainian troops

At the checkpoints at the entrance to the city, Ukrainian troops had put on their raincoats.

There were few soldiers in the city. At the corner of one building stood a light armored vehicle, covered with camouflage netting.

On the road heading West to the military hub of Kramatorsk, there was little sign of troop movement.

Only a few empty army trucks and fuel trucks headed toward the front.

According to the regional governor, the Russians are concentrating their forces near Rubizhne, less than 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Severodonetsk.

Last night, Rubizhne was the target of shelling throughout the night, according to a resident whose house looks out over the two localities.

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