Russian capture of Avdiivka prompts departure of elderly in nearby towns

By Thomson Reuters Feb 21, 2024 | 4:27 AM

By Vitalii Hnidyi

SELYDOVE, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russia’s capture of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine has alarmed people in nearby towns and many are now leaving for safer areas after hunkering down for months from constant hostile fire.

Most of those fleeing are elderly. Having watched districts turn into rubble, they now see the 1000-km (600-mile) front line in the nearly two-year-old war moving ever closer.

In many cases barely mobile, they have help from an evacuation charity called “East SOS”. But that does not make it easy.

In the town of Selydove, Maryna Batrak, bundled up against the cold, is helped down the stairs and loaded into a minibus waiting in the courtyard to take her to a train station in the town of Pokrovsk.

“They have reached Nevelske,” Batrak says of Russian forces, referring to a town to the east. “Another 20-30 km and that’s it. They will destroy us too. Have you seen how those cities were wiped off the face of the earth?”

Batrak’s apartment was destroyed. She lists the local toll of two years of war – schools, kindergartens, a college, a maternity hospital, all in ruins.

Valentyna Kitush, who exchanged a tearful embrace with neighbours as she boarded the van, said Avdiivka’s fall – after it endured Russian attacks since October – was the last straw.

“The shelling has intensified. And after our troops left Avdiivka, it will now get even worse,” she said.

“They are bombarding and destroying everything. Shall I wait till they destroy us? I’ve made up my mind. I’m leaving.”

The capture of Avdiivka indicated a change of momentum in the stalemated war as the third anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine neared.

It was Russia’s biggest battlefield victory since its forces captured Bakhmut in May 2023 and President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Russian troops would push further into Ukraine


As the day’s evacuations got underway in Selydove, one resident with an amputated leg was carried gently to a minibus in a sling held by two volunteers. A stray dog looked on hopefully but there were no handouts.

The minibus made its way down a street dominated by wrecked apartment blocks and other buildings, their roofs, balconies and railings twisted and shattered, and entire storeys missing.

At the train station in Pokrovsk, volunteers helped residents carry onboard shopping bags and small suitcases, each containing a handful of belongings.

An infant in a snowsuit was held aloft and passed to an attendant. Also hoisted aboard – the man with the amputated leg.

The mood was lightened when one volunteer placed a caged parrot on the window in one compartment.

“That’s out little beauty,” said its elderly female owner, cracking a small smile.

In Kurakhove, another town increasingly within range of Russian shells, residents are under no illusions of what lies ahead as they load salvaged wooden panels into trucks.

“The town is constantly being shelled. As they move closer it has become easier for them to shell,” said Volodymyr. “The town is easily within their reach. The front line is 10 km away, even eight km away.”

(Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Angus MacSwan)