Ukrainian fisherman Artur Chrybovsky has a surefire way of realizing he had a rough day ahead: if he failed to catch a fish in the river that descends from the hills where the Russians are stationed.
The 32-year-old throws his net into the water from a bridge spanning the Kazeny Torets River, hoping the distant strikes won’t frighten his dinner.
“They are afraid when there is bombing,” he said, shaking his head, remembering the endless battles on Ukraine’s eastern front in the third month of the Russian invasion. “It should be calm while hunting.”
He breathes: “Previously, I could pick up five or six palms the size of my hand in one day. Now, in times of war, I may not catch any of them at all.”
“It depends on the intensity of the shelling,” says the fisherman. “When it’s really strong, the fish swim to the bottom.”
The bridge is located in Sloviansk, 20 kilometers southwest of the Russian sites, in a city of symbolic importance.
During the conflict between Kyiv forces and pro-Russian separatists that began in 2014 in the region, Sloviansk fell under rebel control for several months.
Ukrainian troops managed to recapture the city only after heavy fighting, making the neighboring city of Kramatorsk a regional administrative centre.
Both Sloviansk and Kramatorsk were now within sight of the Kremlin, which had seized territories in eastern and southern Ukraine without defeating the Ukrainians, as Vladimir Putin had hoped, before the symbolic date of May 9, the day of celebration of Ukrainian National Day. The victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany.
– ‘Stay alive’ –
Kazeny Torets meander around farms and forests until they empty into another river, which separates the positions of the Russian forces from the positions of the Ukrainian forces.
The Russians attempted to advance south beyond these rivers and then advance towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. The Ukrainians responded by sending their most experienced troops from one hot spot to another to ensure that Moscow could not build a bridge on their side of the bank.
Many of these soldiers are dressed in dirty uniforms from the nights and days they spent under bombardment by Russian warplanes and a relentless barrage of Grad and Hurricane missiles.
“It makes you rethink everything you take for granted in civilian life,” says the Ukrainian soldier with the nom de guerre “Boroda,” who won thanks to his thick beard.
“Your mind changes when you jump into an armored vehicle,” he says. “Your priority is to survive.”
A group of men rest under a barricade waiting to be called in to defend Siversk, the last small town on the front line to risk destruction from the fighting.
– Bombing day and night –
Lyubov Baidikova, a former employee of the Seversk collective farm, comes out of her garden to see the Russian attack on her small town of about 10,000 people, mostly miners and farmers.
Black smoke rises for the fourth day in a row from a large granary that caught fire during a battle near the city’s train station.
His house was bombed once in 2014, during the conflict with separatists, and again this month.
She says she no longer even reacts to explosions, after another big explosion.
“I don’t even react when planes are flying overhead,” she says. “It’s been three times today and I don’t care. I’m just exhausted from all of this.”
On Lyubov Street, rows of houses are in ruins. A cemetery located near a patrol site, the graves of which were smashed by a missile or mortar.
The homes that still stand no longer have electricity or gas. The amount of water dripping from the faucet is too thin to take a shower or wash the dishes.
“I can’t leave because of my financial situation. That’s why I live with the bombing day and night. That’s how I live,” explains Lyubov, shrugging his shoulders.
zak / pop / neo / lpt