“Don’t be afraid,” said Diana Levenets, who lives on the street where two houses were hit by shells just two days ago.
She then counted the seconds between the rumbles, to know if it was mortar fire or howitzer, which launches the artillery further and more viciously. It’s a survival trick everyone in this war-torn village of Stanytsia Luhanska in eastern Ukraine knows, but before this week they haven’t had to use it since. years. Their village had not seen a major bombardment for six years before this latest wave.
“I don’t want to believe there will be any further military action,” Levents said. “But I don’t believe everything Russia says. I do not believe in their peaceful statements or their so-called peaceful intentions.
President Biden warned on Friday that Russia could launch a military attack on Ukraine “in the coming days”. For Ukrainians living in the eastern region of Donbass, where the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and separatists they say are Russian proxies has been a daily reality since 2014, the threat of another invasion hasn’t upset them much. .
But the sharp increase in fire from the separatist side over the past three days has rattled even the most war-weary. They now fear Russian-backed forces will continue to hammer on their homes to provoke Ukrainian troops, who are instructed not to open fire. US officials have warned that Russia could stage an attack by Kiev forces on separatist-held territories to justify Moscow’s invasion.
Separatist officials have accused Ukraine on social media and the Telegram messaging app of firing on territories controlled by their forces and said they must respond accordingly. On Friday, the leaders of the two self-declared republics announced a mass evacuation, saying Ukraine was planning an offensive in the region, which Ukrainian officials denied. It is unclear what the actual scope of the evacuations is.
“We have no doubt in our minds where this bombardment is coming from and who is firing it,” Levents said, pointing to the hills where the separatist forces are stationed. “We can literally see where this is coming from. »
Shelling in the government-controlled part of the Donbass region has “increased tenfold” since Thursday, the Ukrainian armed forces said in a statement. On Saturday, two soldiers were killed, five were injured and there were 70 ceasefire violations by Russian-backed separatists, the military said in a statement on Facebook.
Outside the town of Novoluhanske, along the boundary line with the self-declared separatist territory of Donetsk, Col. Oleksandr Zinevich showed reporters where separatist forces have pounded an abandoned industrial area with artillery in recent days. Earlier Saturday, a 27-year-old Ukrainian soldier was running for cover on the asphalt when he was knocked down by a shell.
“He’s going to lose his hand,” Zinevich said, scrolling through pictures of the injury on his phone.
A civilian fisherman had been shot in the morning, Zinevich said, but not seriously injured. This area hasn’t been a hotspot in years, but Zinevich said he sees the eruption of attacks over the past three days – including artillery, mortars, grenades – as proof of a coordinated campaign launched by Russia.
Moscow is trying to provoke Ukrainian forces into responding and giving Russia an excuse to launch an attack, he said. He told his troops not to react unless their lives were in danger.
“The Russian Federation is trying to lead us into war with a lie,” Zinevich said.
A few minutes later, as a group of soldiers and the soldiers escorting them drove away in military vehicles, an artillery shell hit the ground 200 meters away. Lead vehicles raced from the spot as more shells sounded to the east. A man who was fixing his van ran at full speed towards the village.
At the entrance to a military blast shelter near an apartment building, soldiers rushed a group of other journalists and two residents into the darkness to take cover. All were eventually evacuated from the area safe and sound.
The rock climbing flashpoint occurred in the village of Stanytsia Luhanska on Thursday, when a wall in a kindergarten’s sports hall collapsed after being hit by artillery at 8:45 a.m. No children were injured; they were frantically ushered down the hall and said the loud noise they heard was just thunder. If the strike had taken place 15 minutes later, the children would have been in the room when the shell landed.
That night, the village again came under fire. Shells fell on two houses, capsizing the roofs. The consequences were shards of wood and broken glass strewn throughout the living room. The family living there spent Saturday morning packing their spring and summer clothes to hide in their basement. They don’t plan to evacuate but fear further artillery strikes will destroy all of their belongings.
The plastic covering the space where the windows were smashed began to shake again as the shelling grew more intense outside.
“It’s been endless day and night,” said Katya, the house matriarch who declined to give her last name. “And we are afraid that this is only the beginning. »
The construction crew repairing the roof next to it continued their work. The nursery school which was bombed a few days ago plans to welcome back its young pupils on Monday.
Hendrix reported from Novoluhanske, Ukraine.
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Bombing of Ukraine by Russian-backed separatists escalates – Reuters