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Life under siege: residents fear new surge of war in rebel-held east Ukraine

Life under siege: residents fear new surge of war in rebel-held east Ukraine
Life under siege: residents fear new surge of war in rebel-held east Ukraine Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021
By Reuters
Published on Updated
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By Alexander Ermochenko

HORLIVKA, Ukraine - For seven years Lidia Lenko has put up with stray bullets flying through her kitchen window and shrapnel bursts that left jagged pockmarks in the green metal fence outside her home.

Now she is living through what she fears is another upswing in the slow-burning war between pro-Russian separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine.

Once, says the 66-year-old, she believed in the possibility of peace. "But now we listen, we see on TV that there are some talks going on, but there is no relief at all. We only feel the effect on us, when there’s shelling.

"When I go outside in the dark, I see night tracer bullets. If these were peaceful times, I would say they were firework sparklers. But in fact it is terrifying... It's getting worse and worse by the day now."

On the edge of Horlivka, a town controlled by the separatists since 2014, Lenko and her neighbours are trapped between the two warring sides in a conflict that the Ukrainian government says has killed more than 14,000 people.

Russia has accused Ukraine of preparing to try to recapture the breakaway eastern regions by force - something Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy again denied on Friday.

Ukraine fears Russia might use that as a pretext to launch a full-scale war. Moscow says this is false and alarmist.


Tatiana Toloshina, 60, lives in a battered shack with gaping holes in the roof. She keeps ducks, rabbits, pigs and hens, and has built an extensive larder fit to withstand a siege, with jars of pickles and crates full of apples, carrots and cabbage.

"When the shelling starts, I try to hide in the basement. Maybe it won't save me that much. But at least it is somehow comforting," she said.

"We hear the shelling. We live in constant fear. Because it's impossible, you never know where it's going and where it will land."

Aleksander Studenikin and his wife live in the basement of a ruined school, with a candle burning on the table and an old TV set in the corner. Their own house was destroyed by shelling in July 2014.

Like the other residents, he says he hopes for peace but doubts it will come: "It's to their (the sides') benefit to keep the fighting going."

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