‘Now I’m a beggar’: fleeing Russia’s offensive in Ukraine

Pokrovsk, Ukraine — Civilians who have managed to flee as Russian forces intensify their offensive to capture the eastern Ukrainian cities of Sivye Donetsk and Lysichansk say they have been unable to even get out of their underground dugouts amid intensified shelling over the past week. Adventure out.

Despite the attack, some managed to reach the town of Pokrovsk, 130 kilometers (80 miles) south, and on Saturday boarded an evacuation train heading west, away from the fighting.

Heavy fighting took place around Lysychansk and neighboring Sievierodonetsk, the last major Ukrainian-controlled city in the Luhansk region. Luhansk and its southern Donetsk region make up the Donbass, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine and the focus of Russia’s current offensive. Moscow-backed separatists have controlled parts of the Donbass for eight years, and Russian forces are now trying to capture at least the entire Donbass.

Holding her 18-month-old son in her lap and fighting back tears, Yana Skakova describes living in a basement under relentless bombardment and was unable to escape with her child and 4-year-old son. Do not leave the husband.

In the early days after the war, they could come out of the basement to cook on the street and let the children play outside. But about a week ago, the bombing intensified. For the past five days, they couldn’t get out of the basement at all.

“It’s so bad right now, it’s scary to go out,” she said.

On Friday, police evacuated them from the basement, where 18 people, including nine children, had been living for the past two and a half months.

“We were sitting there and the traffic police came and they said: ‘You should evacuate as soon as possible because it’s dangerous to stay in Lysychansk right now,'” Skakova said.

Despite the explosion and no electricity, gas and water, no one really wanted to go.

“None of us want to leave our hometown,” she said. “But for the sake of these little kids, we decided to leave.”

She burst into tears as she described how her husband stayed to take care of their house and animals.

“Yehor is only 1 1/2 years old, and now he has no father,” Skakova said.

Oksana, 74, who dared not give her last name, said she and her 86-year-old husband were evacuated from Lysychansk on Friday by a team of foreign volunteers. There were others in the city, including young children, she said.

Sitting on the same evacuation train as Skakova, she broke down and cried. Tears flowed fast and hard as she described leaving her home for an uncertain future.

“I’m going somewhere, I don’t know where,” she cried. “Now I am a beggar without happiness. Now I have to ask for charity. Might as well kill me.”

She said she had been an accountant and civil servant for 36 years, and the thought of having to rely on others now made her unbearable.

“God forbid anyone else suffering from this. It’s a tragedy. It’s horrible,” she cried. “Who knew I would end up in such a hell?”

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