Sunday, June 23, 2024

WORLD | 24-02-2023 02:09

On the ground: Ukrainian village awaits another Russian attack

The military back and forth in the disputed Donbas region has made everyday life hard for people in Yampil, which lies some 30 kilometres west of the Russian-controlled city of Kreminna. 

Victoria Shypko has a clock on the wall of her dining room in Yampil, eastern Ukraine, whose hands move backwards.

"What's the difference!" it says in Russian, as the hours, minutes and seconds tick anti-clockwise.

Outside, the sound of Ukrainian artillery fire echoes through the frozen valley – a constant reminder of the fight for control of the surrounding countryside.

In April last year, Russian forces seized Yampil. Ukraine then wrested it back in September.

Now, locals fear a renewed Russian offensive from over the hills to the east as the warmer spring weather approaches.

Shypko, though, said she has no strong thoughts about the clock turning full circle again.

"If they [the Russians] don't shoot, it's all the same to me," the 52-year-old former psychiatric nurse told AFP.


Cut off 

The military back and forth in the disputed Donbas region has made everyday life hard for people in Yampil, which lies some 30 kilometres (18 miles) west of the Russian-controlled city of Kreminna. 

The signs of war are everywhere throughout the village, which was once home to just under 2,000 people.

A mobile phone mast lies toppled on the main street, cutting communications with the outside world. 

Shelling has blown off corrugated roofs, destroyed walls and smashed windows, and there has been no electricity for months.

Ukrainian troops in uniform fix vehicles outside the empty homes still standing of residents who have fled.

Shypko, who moved to Yampil in 2014 when Ukrainian forces first took back the village from pro-Russian separatists, is not keen to leave.

She has nowhere to go and no money, she said.

But she also admitted: "I'm afraid to leave. If I left... people will take everything. The military will take over my house."



Shypko's neighbour, Ramis, 42, arrives through the snow, pushing an ageing motorcycle sidecar with cardboard boxes of donated food.

Ramis, his wife Zita, 38, and their 15-year-old daughter are staying with her after their own house was destroyed by shelling.

Outside, logs gathered carefully from the heavily mined forest lie next to clucking hens behind chicken wire in the yard.

Inside, apples, lemons, cabbage and bread are piled up in crates near the wood-fired boiler that keeps the house warm in the absence of a generator.

In the dining room, four plates are set on a floral-patterned oilcloth tablecloth around a small bowl of tuna, lettuce, sweetcorn and mayonnaise salad.

A budgie chirps in a cage and Shypko's eight-year-old dog, Knopka (Button), barks eagerly for treats.

On her bed, Yosyf (Joe) the cat is curled up asleep on the quilt, under shelves of cuddly toys and next to a dresser with blister packs of tablets to control her high blood pressure.

"It looks like we have everything," said Shypko. "But we don't have happiness."



Zarichne – a short drive away past the charred remains of Russian tanks in the pine forest on the way to another tug-of-war city, Lyman – is eerily deserted.

Ukrainian Army private Sergiy Solomon, 31, also talks of a potential Russian offensive from across the fields.

"The Russians have tanks, armoured personnel carriers and Grads (rockets), everything you can think of," the 31-year-old former builder said. 

"We have equipment but not a lot of munitions.

"I read that an attack from the Lyman side is planned ahead of the anniversary (of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24).

"There were rumours of an attack from the Belarus side but it's not confirmed information yet.

"Maybe they just want us to move our army there?"

Back in Yampil, Shypko busies herself with housework and knitting, watching time tick by until the light fades into darkness at 4.30 pm.

Then, all she can do is wait, resigned to what the next day will bring.

"What will be, will be," she said.

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by Phil Hazlewood, AFP

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