POKROVSK – Houses on fire. Artillery blasting through thick apartment walls. People hiding in basements without electricity, water or gas as their towns are pulverized above them.
In shock, sometimes fighting off tears, civilians fleeing areas near the eastern front in the war in Ukraine described scenes of devastation as their towns and villages came under sustained attack from Russian forces.
More than 270 people boarded an evacuation train Sunday heading west to safer areas of Ukraine from the town of Pokrovsk, most brought there on buses from areas near the fighting.
“Ashes, ruins. The northern parts, the southern parts, all are ruined,” said 83-year-old Lida Chuhay, who fled the hard-hit town of Lyman, near the front line in the eastern Luhansk province. “Literally everything is on fire: houses, buildings, everything.”
She and others who fled Lyman said the town was coming under sustained attack and much of it had been reduced to rubble. Those still left there were hiding in shelters. Barely anyone ventures outside as it’s too dangerous to walk in the streets.
“They ruined everything,” said Olha Medvedeva, sitting opposite Chuhay on the train. “The five-story building where we were living, everything flew away — the windows, the doors.”
Everyone now lives in basements, she said, as projectiles fly overhead.
Petro Demidov, sitting opposite her on the train, said they hid in a supermarket while they waited for the bus to pick them up and take them to the train. Above them, the ceiling shook from the force of the explosions outside.
“We got away under heavy fire,” he said.
Russia has apparently made slow grinding moves forward against Ukrainian troops in the eastern industrial Donbas area in recent days. It intensified efforts to capture Sieverodonetsk, the main city under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province, which together with the neighboring Donetsk province makes up the Donbas.
“Horror. There’s nothing to speak of, especially in the center,” 76-year-old Lyubov Chudnyk said of Lyman, the town she has lived in for 42 years. “The schools are damaged, the monuments. Lyman is terrible now.”
She used to support Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Now “I want to strangle him with my own hands,” Chudnyk said.
About 30 kilometers (19 miles) southeast of Lyman, the small town of Soledar was also badly hit, said Denys Uperaka, 34. He had already sent his wife and 3-year-old son away earlier in the war. Now he, too, had to leave.
He was lucky, he said, to live in a valley, so “everything was flying over us.” But it just got to be too much. On Sunday, the Russians started shelling at 4 a.m.
“It’s impossible to be there anymore,” he said, adding that Russian forces had taken over the nearby village of Volodymyrivka, just to the east of Soledar.
To the north of Soledar, the village of Yakovlivka was also coming under sustained attack, said 59-year-old Valentina Domanshenko. The village no longer has electricity, running water or gas, she said. People were surviving by cooking on open fires outdoors. She saw people die of shrapnel wounds in the street.
“The shelling is every day, the houses tremble. Many people left, but there are still some there,” said Domanshenko, breaking down in tears. “I’m very worried about them.”
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