The war begins from the first kilometers of Donetsk oblast in Ukraine. The sounds of shelling, smoke, destroyed houses, and the crushed lives of thousands of families under the rubble. The trouble that Russia brought to Ukraine did not bypass the front-line town of Krasnohorivka, which since 2014 regularly suffers from hits of enemy shells. Many of them took human lives.
Krasnohorivka greets the journalists of «Vchasno» with the sounds of shelling. It's very «hot» here — the Russian army is trying to raze cities, villages, Ukrainian military, and civilians to the ground. Shells fall on the streets, on houses. Entire families are buried under the ruins of houses destroyed by rockets and MLRS. Someone survives, someone's life ends under the tones of the former house.
Today, life in Krasnohorivka rests on the «three pillars»: humanitarian food, water, and matches. The latter is needed both for cooking and an evening bath. However, it requires water, which is almost a rarity in the city. And people know its price very well.
The city is under fire almost every day. The streets are empty, only sometimes you can meet locals here.
«We are used to living under shells, but you should hide»
Humanitarian cargo brought by volunteers is not so frequent in Krasnohorivka. Vitaliy, a local resident, says that nowadays he feeds himself — with what was in stock and what grows in the garden.
«Volunteers came only once, sometime in April. They gave humanitarian aid. On the other side of the street they still bring it, but on this side — nothing, nobody. And I can’t go there for humanitarian aid — because they give food according to the lists, but I'm not on the lists of residents of that street. I go to the church for water — at least they give good water that is acceptable for drinking. 10 liters a day, and you have to pay 70 hryvnias for it,» the pensioner explains.
Vitaliy cannot buy anything in the store — he is a pensioner with no official work experience, so he does not receive a single penny of pension. Because of this, he remains in Krasnohorivka and does not even think about evacuation.
«Today is not a good day for a visit, you are walking under fire… But if something will fly, we will hide in my house, although you will have some protection. Did you hear me? Because you came here, and we are already used to living under shells,» the Krasnohorivka resident says while taking us to the yard to show us the consequences of yet another attack on his house. Our communication continues under the constant sounds of aircraft landing on the territory of the city. A few minutes before our arrival, two shells hit a house on a nearby street. Prior to that, on March 24, «Grad» MLRS flew to the house of Vitaliy. He says that the attack was from occupied Donetsk. And he flies to Krasnohorivka from there «on a permanent basis».
«When it flew into the house, my fence was blown away. People gave me a net, but I stretched it to separate the yard from the road. Although… The glass was broken in the windows, then I simply boarded them up. As soon as the „Grad“ arrived on the 24th, the roof was destroyed. The slate was demolished, but I covered it up a little. But the hole on the side remains, a pothole… There is no way to close it with anything, there is no cement either. I live like this,» Vitaliy shares.
«I already used to it: I hide in the house when gear something, just in time to jump into it. And people left the street because it was scary and dangerous. Here, look: one, two, third, fourth… They all left. The house of neighbors across the street was hit on the same day as mine — March 24. After that, they packed their things and left immediately, and they asked me to look after the house. There were very few people left on this side. There is a little more on the other side of the street, but it's empty here,» the pensioner says.
«I ask them: idiots, what are you watching? They lie to you!»: the battle for the truth in Krasnohorivka
The information war did not escape Krasnohorivka either. Vitaly, under the sound of shelling, which is getting louder and louder, says that some of those who remained support Russia because of the picture on the television.
«We don't have Ukrainian television. I have satellite television, so I watch both Ukrainian and foreign news, and different programs. And in many households, the TV shows only Russian channels. And they are fed with the fact that „Ukraine is shelling its own people“, and „evil Bandera people!“. And I say to them: „What are you watching? Everything they say is a lie!“ But they are sure that it is true, but you cannot convince them. They watch Russia and that's it. That broadcasting tower should’ve been destroyed back in 2014 because strong propaganda started even from that time. And there are enough idiots who believe in it,» the pensioner says.
The direction of the shelling is obvious — the shells are flying from the occupied territory: from Berezova, Katynskу, Staromykhailivka, Abakumov, from the «Butivka» mine, etc., «in a straight line». And it flies to Krasnohorivka from there «on a permanent basis».
We heard a different opinion from another local resident. An 80-year-old man meets us on the second street of the city. When we say that we are journalists, he immediately summarizes: «You are from commercial television! Here you are shooting this advertisement of yours, how good it is to live in Ukraine. I saw these ads on TV. When they show people's lives in Ukraine, that's just commercial, a lie. You are getting paid for such ads. Naturally, you don't tell the truth like Russia, you only show commercials.»
The question of what kind of television he is watching actually disappears. However, we ask and receive the answer: «I am watching real television, not advertising!». Immediately after — he tells his version of what has been happening since 2014. «Since 2014, Ukraine has been shooting. My whole garden is covered in shells! And then, and now,» the man says.
When we ask who Ukraine is fighting with, if Ukraine is the one who shoots, the man assures us: that no one is attacking our state. According to the man, our country is shelling and destroying itself.
«I have an extreme house, if that side (the occupiers, Russia — ed.) shot, I would be the first to hear. Russia did not fire a single shot. But we are already used to it, we have been living like this since 2014. There are always holes in our garden. Small, from shell hits. The last time was a week ago. I said 8 years ago: if they shoot from there, we will hear!», the man says. And then he brings us the cluster shell. As he says, such «gifts» arrive regularly. From whom — he does not even doubt, because he is «told the truth» on Russian television.
«It is scary but we keep working. People need to buy and eat something»
The problem with food and water in Krasnohorivka is shared. Out of several dozen shops in the city, there are about ten working, including not only grocery stores but also pet stores. Provisions are also delivered there, but less often than in «people's» stores.
We go to a small store that is open during the shelling. The streets are empty. «How do you work here when there are explosions all around?», we ask the saleswoman. Nadiia answers: working is scary, sometimes so much so that the store is closed almost all day. However, she goes to work every day if possible, because people need something to eat.
«We didn't even think of leaving Krasnohorivka. There are groceries, whole families are left to live here, and people need to buy and eat something. Because someone's vegetable garden is dry, someone simply has no supplies. Therefore, of course, there are buyers. But in the middle of the day and in the evening, the streets are empty. Only in the morning, from seven to twelve, people come to the store. And then they run away to the houses. But when there is heavy shelling or a helicopter flies in close, we close the shop, of course. Everyone is scared,» the woman says.
Because of the danger, now only one supplier goes to Krasnohorivka to deliver goods. All others refused because they are afraid of shelling.
«When the shelling started — everyone stopped coming here. Food prices, of course, have risen. Most often, people take tea, cereals, and bread, so these products did not increase in price very much. Sometimes they also buy sausages, even sweets. It became more expensive, yes,» Nadiia says.
«The children are doomed, but the people are so poor that there is no other way out, except for their native home»
Nadiia's family continues to live in Krasnohorivka. The woman's grandchildren — 14-year-old twin sisters, 13-year-old and 17-year-old boys — have already learned to live under shelling. The woman admits: that neither adults nor children want to leave their homes. That is why they finished their studies online, sitting under fire at home.
«We are all used to living like this. There are no other options. Although many left, many remained. Families with children… Sometimes you drive down an alley and there are so many children walking! They already all know what to do if shelling starts somewhere nearby. They know which basements to hide in, and which neighbors to run to. They jump in fear when it falls nearby. But children are doomed here. Parents try not to let them out on the street for a long time, if something is heard, they ask them to come back. And families with children didn’t leave, because where would they go without money? Most often, children are in young families, and now there is no work. People have become extremely impoverished, they live at the expense of pensioners — who still have parents or grandparents alive», — the saleswoman says already to the sounds of the hits a few meters away.
The windows in the store begin to shake from individual projectiles. Closing the store, Nadiya adds: after February 24, shooting is different than all 8 years before.
«We had them, often. But the situation as it is now was only at the beginning, in 2014. And the current shelling is very scary, scary. There were dead people, injured people… A lot already,» Nadiia says, before saying goodbye and quickly going home.
«Until 10 o'clock, they let to „run“ between shellings, while they don't shoot so much»
When we reach the high-rise buildings, enemy shells are already very close. Under the entrance, we notice two women — a pensioner and a woman aged 35. Both are standing under the canopy to the sounds of explosions. Shells are already falling on the other side. They immediately start shouting at us to hide, because the yard is constantly being shot at.
«Why did you come here? There is constant shelling here. There were three flights just before your arrival, 20 minutes ago. And that's how they shoot all day,» says the youngest, Iryna. An older woman adds: that there is no safe time to walk down the street. However, you can manage to «skip» between shelling in the morning, when they are not so dense.
«We are still allowed to „run“ until 10 in the morning, then someone runs to the store, someone somewhere else. And after the 10th, it's harder. But people still go. Because it wasn’t quite all these years,» Valentyna says.
Their house has already had several hits. The first is on the 5th floor, the 4th floor was «knocked out» in the adjacent entrance. There is no glass left in the windows — they were all boarded up. The only hiding place from rockets, cassettes, and «Grad» in the basement, where a «sleeping room» has been set up. Now there are two beds with blankets, several bottles of water, and a first aid kit.
The basement is many times safer than the apartment, so during shelling, both women go outside and wait by the entrance. If something falls nearby, they immediately go down. When we say goodbye, the women in unison refuse to take photos — they are afraid.
«Taking pictures can get you in trouble. Please go away from here with God!» Iryna advices.
Shelling before leaving
At the moment when we say goodbye to Krasnohorivka, another projectile flies very close. As it turned out later, it flew into an open field — exactly where the «Vchasno» journalists were supposed to be at that moment, if the driver had not picked up the correspondents.
The projectile made another tear in the asphalt. Every arrival here feels like a personal wound because while enemy shells are falling nearby, children are playing a few hundred meters away, forced to live their childhood under shelling. On that day, the residents of Krasnohorivka were lucky — they survived. However, because of this, thousands of our defenders die on the front line, knowing clearly with which horde they are fighting. And they die as heroes so that children have a home, parents, and most importantly, life.