Before the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lyman was a railway town, comfortably located in the middle of a pine forest. There were many recreation centers near the city, where people came from all over the region — some to breathe in the forest air, some to pick mushrooms or simply swim in local lakes.
Today, driving to Lyman past the pine forest, it’s really difficult to recognize this area. Fallen trees, traces of powerful explosions, remnants of shells, and a destroyed railroad. It is dangerous and strictly forbidden to pull over or enter the roadside.
Ruins. All the buildings of Lyman are in such form: shops, government institutions, private houses, and high-rise buildings. The city is destroyed by more than 80%. And almost everything must be built «from scratch».
In addition to the ruins, there are other signs of the presence of the Russian army in the city — inscriptions with the names of Russian cities from which the invaders came, and many inscriptions «USSR». It is unlikely that those who wrote it know at all what the USSR is and how life was in it. This is the result of the influence of propaganda, on which Russians grew up and lost the signs of humanity. The strangers barbarously destroyed everything in Lyman.
As a result of the shelling, the entire critical infrastructure of Lyman was also damaged — water supply, electricity supply and gas supply. The authorities warned immediately after the de-occupation that it was useless to count on a comfortable wintering in Liman: it would be an extremely difficult test.
Recently, the city has only started to have electricity.
Since the beginning of October, when Lyman was liberated from the occupiers, the locals faced a choice: to evacuate to other regions in order to be able to spend the winter with comfort or to survive in the destroyed city. Most of the population was evacuated in the first months of the war when it became clear that life in Lyman would have to be fought under the shells of the Russians. However, today there are still those who are ready to take risks and try to survive in the city.
There are still such desperate people in Lyman. «Vchasno» journalists meet them near a five-story building without windows that were blown out by the shock wave.
Of all the residents of the house, only six remained. They have been living in the basement for six months, and this is where they plan to spend the winter. We go down to this «apartment» — there is smoke and a smell from a stove in the basement. Local resident Leonid, who is in charge here, admits that he «stunk up» with this smell in the first days when they started warming up in the basement.
«We need to somehow make pipes because now they are letting the smoke out,» the senior man says. «We light two small stoves with firewood at once, because one does not warm up. And the third stove stands in the corner and has no use now. We were promised firewood — the need is big, but we still have not received it.»
If the residents do not install a hood in the basement, one day none of them may wake up, because soot smoke is an active killer. Leonid does not know who to expect help from. But none of the residents of the basement still want to evacuate. They have already lived here for half a year, and hope to survive the winter as well.
The man says that he will not go anywhere, because here is his apartment, in which he lived his whole life with a wife. And the children live far from Lyman. They did not immediately offer him to stay at their place, and when they did so, Leonid has already used to live in the basement. The man does not dare to leave everything he has. So at least there is some hope that he has his own home. Sometimes a man climbs from the basement to his apartment to make sure he has a place to return to. The apartment is almost intact, with only cracks on the walls.
Oleksandr, a locksmith at a local school, does men's business in the basement together with Leonid. At the beginning of the war, he took his family to a safe area and stayed to guard the apartment and property, and now he goes to work — installing windows in the school. He receives the minimum salary and considers it the better option than being unemployed in another city.
There are also elderly women living in the basement who immediately ask us to bring blood thinning pills because they suffer from high blood pressure. There is also an 11-year-old girl with her mother and grandmother among the residents of the basement.
And there are several cats huddled next to people, and several dogs near the basement — animals come to the place because they can find food there.
The life of Lyman residents living in the basement is «on the edge». The evening is spent in the usual basement rooms, where jars of canned goods used to be stored. Now, these rooms are used for people's lives. The area of each is no more than 7−10 m², two of them are for the so-called bed. It was arranged on shelves for jars. To make it easier to sleep, people use personal items — jackets, sweaters, blankets, etc. They are placed on the mattress shelves.
Leonid shares his room with the cats he took from the apartment to the basement so that they would not get lost and stay warm. Next to the bed are storage racks which in recent months have served as both a desk and a so-called closet.
At the entrance to the room, there is a hanger and a small table. The rest of the amenities are either on the street or in buckets. They perform all the functions of a toilet — from a toilet to a shower, because only in such conditions is it possible to take a minimal shower.
«We only got electricity a week ago — before we have not had it at all. We lived with candles, we got used to it,» the residents of the basement say.
The only food — is humanitarian aid, which is brought by volunteers and distributed by the government. Instant noodles and pasta, vegetable canned food are most appreciated. However, borschts and soups are often cooked, so products are never superfluous.
11-year-old Lina has been hiding in the basement since the first months of the war — since the explosions became too loud. The Russians shelled the house next door, and at the same time the shock wave knocked out the glass in her high-rise building. Cracks also «crept» along the walls, due to which the housing became dangerous. In the summer, people still managed to live in an apartment, regularly going down to the basement. However, in autumn, when the temperature dropped, everyone moved to live in the basement. The girl, too, together with her grandmother and mother.
«We are not leaving because my classmate left with her parents and their apartment was robbed. That's why we stay here so our apartment will not be robbed», — Lina tells us. «And my mother's friend left like that — and then she couldn't drive back. I am almost not afraid of shelling. Sometimes it's scary, of course — when it's very loud. But the last time, when the shell hit close, my grandmother and mother got scared, and I was sleeping — I didn't even hear anything. And yesterday they shot in the afternoon — I was scared, and my granny immediately ran into the basement. And I was just scared.»
Lina sleeps in the same room with two adults — on boxes and a board placed on top of her. However, her sleeping place is only about one square meter. The girl can't straighten her legs on a cramped sunbed. Mother and grandmother also sleep with their legs bent, because the length of each «bed» is no more than 1.5 meters. Previously, they slept on bare boards — but recently caring people brought them mattresses, so now, the girl smiles, it is much more comfortable to sleep.
Because of the war, Lina does not study since February 24, when her school temporarily stopped the educational process due to the danger. Lina even spent an occupation in the basement — so there was no mention of any studying. She says that even now she does not study, although before the war she loved to go to school. Lina's grandmother adds: they live this way because the child's mother (her daughter) holds on to work in the city and takes care of her father-in-law, who «would be lost» without her.
«And where to go? Who needs us? And here is at least a native basement, not someone else's walls,» Lina's grandmother says. In such conditions, 11-year-old Lina will spend the winter in the coming months, the girl will not be able to at least somehow continue her studies, even reading books in the basement is difficult, adding up the constant shelling of the occupiers, who do not stop firing heavy artillery on the Lyman.
Despite all the difficulties, none of the adult residents of this basement want to leave — they all hold on to their apartments, which miraculously survived the shelling. Everyone is ready to stay in the winter. In a conversation with us, elderly women only complain that sometimes they do not have time to receive humanitarian aid. They ask to bring some warm clothes and blood thinning medicines because the blood pressure is constantly rising from survival in the conditions of war.
Today, approximately 5,000 residents remain in de-occupied Lyman. Before the war, more than 22,000 people lived in the city.