Residents of Ukraine’s Orikhiv try to survive in the ruins

By Thomson Reuters Feb 29, 2024 | 8:46 AM

ORIKHIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – In the shattered town of Orikhiv not far from the southeastern front in Ukraine, Svitlana, a grandmother, sleeps in the brick-walled basement of her apartment block where she lives with her husband to shelter from Russian bombs.

Their hometown in Zaporizhzhia region some 10 kilometres from one of the last year’s most dangerous front lines in the war with Russia has emptied to roughly 1,000 people from its pre-war population of nearly 14,000.

“Who could have thought that we would live like this at our age? Like the homeless,” the 64-year-old said in an interview this week.

Her apartment, which is in the neighbouring building from the basement where she now lives, had its windows blown out during a strike and she is afraid of even leaving her shelter now. She uses a woodstove in the basement to cook.

“We got through the winter okay. It’s been cold, but what can you do? Sometimes there’s no electricity. It’s okay.”

Orikhiv lies just to the north of the front where Ukraine mounted one of its main counteroffensive pushes against Russian forces last year in an operation that proved unable to gain much ground.

Now the tide has turned and Russian troops are on the offensive in the area, having captured the town of Avdiivka in the east in Moscow’s biggest battlefield advance since May last year.

“The enemy is conducting active offensive actions,” said Vasyl Zavarskyi, head of a Polohy district police department that works in the town.

“Orikhiv and the surrounding towns and villages are being hit with artillery, multiple launch rocket systems. The Russians also attack using aviation and guided aerobombs.”

He said 99% of the town’s infrastructure had sustained damage. “There’s no intact building left.”

And yet people like Svitlana and Kostiantyn, a 48-year-old farmer, continue to live there.

“There are many people living here on this street. There are people in every other house,” said Kostiantyn, gesturing to a row of damaged buildings.

A Russian guided aerial bomb landed in his garden when he was out at one point, he said, adding that he nonetheless had no plans to leave.

“Where to? What’s the reason? To go into the unknown is the same as being homeless. Here you’re at least home, everything is yours here. It’s extremely difficult to go into the unknown.”

Another woman, also named Svitlana, 51, said she left the town with her five children for the Kyiv-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, leaving behind her husband who continues to live in Orikhin.

She returned to the town this week to bring supplies to her husband and people in Orikhiv from the city. She was unsure what the future would bring.

“I think that everything will be fine, and we will come back to our dear town. Our town is the best,” she said, fighting back tears.

(Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Alexandra Hudson)