Oleg Moloskniy has become bitter since the war began.
Before the Russian invasion nearly a year ago, Moloskniy, like most people in his village, paid little attention to the political borders that divided Russia from Ukraine.
"It was like it was the same thing. We were going to Belgorod, Russia, like someone goes to Kharkiv. There were trains and buses all the time, and there was never a difference," he said.
Moloskniy, 58, is a former bus driver who lives in Nova Kozacha, one of the many Ukrainian villages alongside the railway line that connects Kharkiv to Moscow.
His home is just six kilometers from the border. The son of a Ukrainian mother and a Russian father, Moloskniy served as a soldier in Vladivostok, in the far east of vast Russian territory, during the Soviet years.
"I always felt at home there, whether in Vladivostok or in Belgorod," he said. Moloskniy, like almost everyone else here, has relatives on both sides of the border. "We always met, we were family," he said.
But now, everything has changed. He says he has no information about the family members on the Russian side since the war started. "I don't want to know about them. I don't know if one day I'll be able to meet them again, we're not a family anymore. Everything is over," he said.
This border region between the two countries is interconnected by culture and history. The war has brought deep separation for those who permanently lived as if borders were just imaginary lines drawn on a map.
Ludmila is a Nova Kozacha resident who hasn’t seen her husband, Alexei, since a bomb exploded in their backyard in August. The shrapnel seriously wounded Alexei in the legs. At that time, the village was under Russian occupation and Russian troops took him to a hospital in Belgorod.
Alexei is unable to return home because the border has become a battlefront.
Ludmila – who declined to give her last name for fear of retaliation by Russian intelligence – says it is impossible to bring her husband back. "I still can't understand what happened, how two brother countries can be fighting each other; it blows my mind even one year after all of this started," she said.
Little destruction, but almost no life
Nova Kozacha is the last destination open to civilians on the road that borders the rail line linking northeastern Ukraine to Russia.
The small village is so close to the border that it suffered virtually no damage from invading Russian troops a year ago or the autumn Ukrainian counter-offensive.
"The bombs passed over us, almost nothing was hit here," said Moloskniy, one of the few residents who has chosen to stay in Nova Kozacha during the entire war.
Despite little destruction, Nova Kozacha is like a ghost town.
The sunflower fields around the village are abandoned. The never-picked flowers are now dry, lifeless, and colorless, showing that life abruptly stopped here.
The sound of Russian artillery or Ukrainian anti-aircraft fire occasionally breaks the silence.
From more than 1,000 residents before the war started, less than 200 people now live here. Some of those who left are in Russia and don't want to or can't go back to meet those who stayed behind.
Olga Yefremova, 80, is desperate to see her daughter, two grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter. "I haven't seen them since before the war, the town where they were in the Donbas was occupied by the Russians. Now I don't know where they are," said the retired teacher, in tears.
The last time she heard from the family was in December last year. They were in Russia, but they couldn't find a way to get back to Ukraine. "I don't understand how politicians can be doing this, driving young people to kill each other; we are brothers," she said.
One of Olga's grandchildren is in the Ukrainian army. "The Russians came here, saw the photo and asked if I was hiding him. They even pointed the gun at the basement, thinking he might be here," she said. Her grandson, she says, is in Kyiv, away from the front lines.
On Tuesday, heavy snow fell on Nova Kozacha. The streets were still empty, with residents venturing out into the cold to get water from the wells that had not yet frozen.
At the border, a few kilometers away, an official said hours later that a Russian helicopter opened fire on Ukraine's first line of defense. Soon the sound of anti-aircraft guns could be heard in Nova Kozacha.
"Every day is more frequent, louder; I think the Russians will come back. They wouldn't come here to leave the other day, they want to come to stay," said Ludmila, without seeming scared by the sound of the bombs.
Artur Chupryhin contributed to this report.