Kharkiv, the second-largest city of Ukraine, used to be its capital. With its industry, business and culture, it is the first major urban centre outside the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. Kharkiv shelters thousands of people displaced from the Donbas region.
Last month Serhiy Kurchenko and his wife and two sons came to Kharkiv from Yasynuvata, near Donetsk. Their apartment windows, walls and balcony damaged by shelling, they left their relatives behind.
Kurchenko said: “We heard explosions all around. We had to sleep in the basement. When we had to use the toilet, we ran up quickly, only when it was quiet outside.”
His main concern is he can’t plan his family’s future. It’s too dangerous to go home yet. Insisting that peace and security must be the top tasks for the new parliament and government, he said: “We really need to put an end to this war and re-start our economy… and to apply the law — finally.”
Pisochyn, a town not far from Kharkiv, has one of the biggest schools in the area. More than a thousand children study here, some of them in Russian and the others Ukrainian. Around 40 from the conflict zone have joined the regular students. Svitlana Lukyanenko teaches Russian literature. She says language has never been a problem here, so she doesn’t understand why the conflict developed to such extremes.
Ms Lukyanenko told us: “It doesn’t matter what language a person uses. If someone here speaks in Russian – we answer in Russian, if its Ukrainian then Ukrainian. We never had eastern-western conflicts.”
She feels there’s a chance to move forward and finally start reforming the country, by way of the new parliament and new government. In the meantime, day-to-day survival is hard. She’s frustrated that salaries aren’t keeping up with rising prices.
She said: “We have lots of concerns, of course, paying for housing, for instance. The heating bill is due soon, in November, and we’re terrified how much it will be. Prices for hot water and gas have gone up so it’s going to be huge. That’s why we’re desperate for better salaries.”
Kharkiv’s political composition is still a puzzle. Some local pro-Russian politicians are in the running for the new parliament, including those who were allied with the former government. The election will show whom the people of Kharkiv trust to shape their future.
Our correspondent Angelina Kariakina reported: “Kharkiv is practically in the front line zone because of the developments in eastern Ukraine. We’re here to find out what has changed in the past six months; what is the mood? We’re with one of Ukraine’s best-known writers, the highly respected Serhiy Zhadan. What, do you think, is keeping Kharkiv relevant? Quite recently the city was on the brink of losing all significance, but for some reason it didn’t.”
Serhiy Zhadan, Ukrainian writer: “I believe there are two factors. The first is how the local community organised itself. It didn’t let the separatists take over the city. People didn’t support a purely pro-Ukrainian position but they didn’t support the separatists either. That’s one of the most important factors that makes Kharkiv different from other cities in the east of Ukraine. As soon as the city faced the real danger of a power grab, it mobilised, people became active. Kharkiv showed it remained part of the country. The local authorities managed to keep control. We don’t know what might have happened if the police had not acted firmly in April.”
Kariakina, euronews: “How has people’s thinking changed as the conflict unfolded?”
Zhadan: “On the outside, you can see that the city is dressed in the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag. But it’s not only flags. There are also some internal changes, which are more important, of course. Many people, who never identified themselves with this country, suddenly realised they were citizens of Ukraine. They might not like what has been happening here, but they need to defend their country, otherwise there’s a danger they’ll lose everything.”
Kariakina, euronews: “What’s going to happen now? What’s the solution?”
Zhadan: “My guess is it can only be solved through joint efforts. You can’t change anything if there’s no understanding, no cooperation from the other side of the front line — or a willingness to start a dialogue.”