“I heard shelling”: Fear enveloped Ukrainian villages near Russia | Conflict News

The name marked with an asterisk has been changed to protect the identity.

Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine – “I don’t want to live anymore,” said Ukrainian “babushka” (grandmother) Olga, who was about to celebrate her 89th birthday.

“I will turn 89 on January 2, but I would rather die,” she told Al Jazeera, wearing a traditional headscarf.

Olga lives on the front lines of eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border in the town of Malinka.

88-year-old Olga poses for a photo at her home in Malinca [Sara Cincurova/Al Jazeera]

This is government-controlled territory, close to the so-called “line of contact”, separating it from the separatist areas of Donetsk and Lugansk.

There have been reports of shootings here in recent weeks. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, machine gun shots and mortar shells were recorded nearby in November and December.

Olga could hear gunshots every night.

“I can’t sleep. This war has been going on for more than seven years. Everything has calmed down, but now, I can hear bullets flying over my house every night. I hope my life ends here.”

Around Olga’s house are signs warning snipers and landmines.

Considering the risks, military personnel only allowed Al Jazeera to report in the area for 20 minutes.

Malinka's school children go home from schoolMalinka’s schoolchildren go home after class [Sara Cincurova/Al Jazeera]

According to Kiev, the 2014 war in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 14,000 people and caused a huge displacement crisis, leaving only the most vulnerable people living in the war zone.

According to Srdan Stojanovic, head of the European Humanitarian Aid Office in Ukraine, 3.4 million people will need humanitarian assistance in 2021.

As the conflict continues, there is no end in sight, even in High-level meetingRussian President Vladimir Putin has been accused by the West of gathering more than 100,000 soldiers near the border between Russia and Ukraine.

He said Moscow has the right to deploy troops on Russian territory and denied allegations of planned invasion. At the same time, Russia claims that NATO is expanding eastward and fears that the alliance is getting closer and closer to Ukraine.

Security incidents have intensified since November as allegations by the President’s Office crossed the border.

On November 13, 15-year-old female student Martha* slept in her grandmother’s home in the village of Nevelske-also in a government-controlled area, when she was awakened by the sound of shells.

“I found myself a victim of shelling again, just like I did at the beginning of the 2014 war. It feels the same,” Martha told Al Jazeera.

The whole village was destroyed. There is no death record, but dozens of people, including Martha and her grandmother, were evacuated.

The teenager now lives with relatives in a nearby village a few kilometers away.

“But even now, I can hear the shelling every night. It wakes me up. It’s tiring to come to school every morning.”

Paintings at the New Mekha Yilivka Children’s SchoolA school painting teaches children how to avoid landmines while playing outdoors [Sara Cincurova/Al Jazeera]

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA Ukraine) told Al Jazeera that the settlements on both sides of the line of contact are hot spots.

Security incidents were recorded in three settlements visited by Al Jazeera recently: Marinka, Nevelske and Pisky.

For 16-year-old Nastya*, the battle she heard near Nevelske reminded her of painful memories at the beginning of the war.

“I have a little sister who was just born in 2014. I am not only worried about my life, but also about her life,” she told Al Jazeera.

“Now that we hear shelling and shooting again now, all the questions keep popping up: Can we survive? Can my sister survive?”

Alyona Budagovska, a spokesperson for the front-line NGO People in Need, told Al Jazeera that at least 54,000 children live within 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) of the government-controlled area of ​​the communication line.

“Most of the children we support live within 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) of the contact line and hear shelling every week or every day,” she said.

“Children feel unsafe when they go home and school at night. Access to underground shelters during the shelling also varies from settlement to settlement.”

In Pervomaiske, a child took her home from school by school busAccording to People in Need, a non-governmental organization operating in the area, tens of thousands of children live within 15 kilometers of the contact line in government-controlled territory alone. [Sara Cincurova/Al Jazeera]

In the village of Nova Mekaifka, about an hour’s drive from Pervomaiske, residents have become accustomed to the presence of mines and shelling.

16-year-old Katya* told Al Jazeera that she heard an explosion on the way home from school on December 21. Recently, volunteers drew a picture on the wall to teach the youngest child how to avoid landmines while playing outdoors.

Parents live in fear.

Alexandra and Ivan, 87 and 89 years old, said they felt “heartbroken” as soon as they heard the shelling.

They recalled an incident at the beginning of the war. Their only son barely survived after being shot in their house.

“These days, we heard violent shelling from Piski Village because we live on the other side of the same land,” Alexandra said.

Their house is close to the village of Vodiane on the connection line.

In late November, Piski was hit by shells and bullets. Ivan and Alexandra heard the attack from their house.

“They bombarded our friends’ houses; they even destroyed their toilets. People had to hide in the basement overnight. We were scared when we recalled the day our son almost died there,” they said.

“We are illiterate. We survived the Second World War and the Soviet famine of 1947. We thought we were not afraid.

“But now, we pray every night before going to bed, and then pray again in the morning, because we are happy to be alive.”

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