(Avdiivka) Kateryna’s blue eyes fill with tears as she recounts how the police forced her grandson to evacuate Avdiivka, a frontline town in eastern Ukraine, where she lives in a cellar.
The authorities have indeed ordered the evacuation of all the miners from this ghost town taken in a pincer movement, bombarded on three sides by Russia and from which no building has been spared.
“They took my grandson, he’s 15,” said Kateryna, 64, sitting in an underground shelter opened a few days ago.
“They started the evacuation and they took him away. He didn’t want to leave and his mother didn’t want to leave. Home is home, even though they lived in a basement,” she laments.
Due to a faulty telephone network, the grandmother does not know where the teenager is now. But she admits it was best that he left. “I’m even happy. It might be better there. Here they shoot and you can’t sleep at night.”
Avdiivka Mayor Vitali Barabach said on Monday that eight children were still in the town, and accused the parents of “hiding” them. “We’ll go get them,” he promised.
According to Mykhailo Pourychev, the manager of the new reception center for residents of Avdiivka, the police evacuated two children on Monday.
The 37-year-old man is known to have evacuated the inhabitants of his hometown, Mariupol, a port city taken by the Russians in May 2022 after a devastating siege.
It has already set up shelters in the worst flashpoints of the war, including Bakhmout.
According to him, there are some 2,000 inhabitants left in Avdiivka, compared to 30,000 when the Kremlin launched its invasion in February 2022. The city has been on the front since 2014 and the start of the war between Ukrainian forces and separatists led by Moscow.
Russian troops have been trying for months to take the town 13 km from Donetsk, the Russian-controlled capital of the eponymous region.
Mr. Pourychev is not very patient with the families who remain in Avdiivka, believing that the children are “hostages of their parents”.
He recalls the recent death of a five-month-old baby in a Russian strike and says toddlers living in basements “sometimes don’t see the sky for three months.”
In Avdiïvka, he manages a new underground shelter with the help of residents and volunteers. A well dug 40 meters deep provides water for showers and washing machines. There is even a hairdresser.
“When you turn on a tap and the water runs, it’s magic for people,” he explains, “because they’ve been living in this hellhole for a year,” with no running water, no electricity, no heat. .
Sergiy, 68, takes off his winter coat and fur cap, revealing matted hair and filthy clothes. We help him into the shower, then he comes out clean and goes to get his hair cut.
Two retired women watch their clothes spinning around in the washing machines.
In the street, apart from the firing of nearby Ukrainian artillery and the barking of dogs, there is practically no noise.
A few vehicles transport soldiers. In the air hangs the smell of smoke from the stovepipes emerging from the cellars.
Lioudmyla, 66, cuts branches for the stove in the basement where she lives with six other people. She says she is “constantly tense and scared”.
“Are we going to survive, are we not going to survive? “, she wonders.
“Everybody got a lot thinner and grayer,” she says.
She has heard that she can wash clothes in the new shelter, located 10 minutes away on foot, but she does not dare venture there. “It’s so scary,” she blurts out, as an explosion sounds in the distance.
Avdiivka no longer has an ambulance or lifeguards. At the central hospital, the two doctors still present provide basic treatment and stabilize seriously injured patients. These are then evacuated by the police or volunteers to towns farther from the front.
The only surgeon, Mykhaïlo Orlov, explains that civilians are injured by shrapnel and mortars, and bullets.
They suffer from “open traumatic brain injury, penetrating injuries to the chest and abdomen, injuries to the upper and lower limbs”.
Hospital director Vitaliy Sytnyk opens the door to one of the abandoned wards, removing a recently broken window. “This is the latest damage,” he comments sadly. “Yet we had spent so much effort and money on the renovations.”