By Maksym Levin
NEVELSKE, Ukraine – Elderly couple Kateryna and Dmytro Shklyar are among the last residents of Nevelske, a village near the frontlines in east Ukraine where years of fighting have left them without running water, electricity or neighbours.
Nevelske sits some 25 km (15 miles) from Donetsk, the biggest city in the contested eastern Ukraine region where Russia has backed separatist rebels fighting government troops since 2014. The conflict has killed 15,000 people to date.
The village had around 300 inhabitants 20 years ago but most have fled. After the latest shelling in November, part of the most recent escalation of the conflict between Russia and the West over Ukraine, only five inhabitants are still here.
The Shklyars live without running water or a stable power supply, relying on the Ukrainian military and aid workers to deliver basic goods.
Their neighbourhood is mostly made up of destroyed houses. The nearest shop is too risky to reach across military roadblocks and the largely dormant but still dangerous line separating Ukraine from the territory under rebel control.
“It cannot get any worse,” said Kateryna, her wrinkled face framed by a red hair scarf. “He is 86 and I am 76 years old. And we live on nothing. Well, we have of course our own potatoes carrots and onions. But that’s all we have.”
A little food cellar where they keep glass jars with pickled fruits and vegetables also serves as their bomb shelter. A cat and a dog are all the company they have left.
Russia has spooked Ukraine and the West in recent weeks by massing some 120,000 troops near its border with the former Soviet republic that now wants to join NATO.
Russia has already annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the West has threatened Moscow with grave sanctions if it invades again, something Russia has repeatedly denied it plans to do.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday the West has not addressed Moscow’s main security demands in the crisis over Ukraine but that he is ready to keep talking to avert a further escalation.
Kateryna Shklyar, sitting next to her husband in their house, its walls adorned with thick carpets, wiped away tears.
“I don’t have any words or tears anymore,” she said. “Everybody has left. Those who had money and could afford to buy something somewhere – they all left. And where would we go, two old people, who needs us?”
“You’d better shoot us.”