«The Survival Instinct Is Dulled»: Everyday Life of Chasiv Yar, Which the Russians Seek to Capture at Any Cost

Chasiv Yar is a small city that the Russian army is eager to capture after fighting in Bakhmut. Every day the city is under enemy fire.

Before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the city of Chasiv Yar was home to almost 17,000 people. According to the 2001 population census, 52.39% of citizens indicated Ukrainian as their native language, 46.62% - Russian, and 0.99% - other languages. The city is located approximately 10 km from Bakhmut. And it is under fire every day.

All that remains from Chasiv Yar are the ruins and the shadows of individual residents, who do not even bend down when the next missile or projectile is aimed at the neighboring yard. Almost the entire city is destroyed.

Apart from volunteers, Bakhmut district policemen are the only ones who regularly visit the city. Kemran Arzimanov, the deputy head of the Bakhmut District Police Department, explains that documenting crimes is the major thing that law enforcement officers do in the city. Also, they try to persuade people to evacuate and distribute humanitarian aid. Receiving food from the police and volunteers is the basis for the survival of most of the locals, although this is measured by the killed people who risk themselves to deliver it.

«The survival instinct is dulled when you live in Armageddon»

In the past, after leaving Bakhmut, in a few minutes, people immediately entered Chasiv Yar. Nowadays, none of the civilians even look in that direction, since it is only 1.5 km from the extreme point of the city to the positions of the Russian occupiers. Therefore, absolutely everything that is in the arsenal of the occupiers is «flying» into the city: mines, tank and aircraft shells, missiles, and sometimes bullets.

Chasiv Yar is of strategic importance for the Russian army because the road to Kostyantynivka, Druzhkivka, Kramatorsk, and Slovyansk opens from this city. That is why today active military operations are being conducted in the direction of the city — on the approaches to the villages of Klishchiivka, Bohdanivka, and Ivanivske.

Map: DeepState

The law enforcement officers explain to «Vchasno» journalists: for today, only locals who are registered there can enter the territory of the city. The city is closed to everyone else. The exception is volunteers, who usually are accompanied by someone and bring food to people.

«People with children are not allowed to go to Chasiv Yar. This is unacceptable, therefore, if such families do come to the city entrance, they are being turned back. You have to be a moron to go back there with a child, to force a kid to see everything that is happening in the city… But we can’t keep adults out. Therefore, unfortunately, some who left earlier still return to live under fire,» police lieutenant colonel Kemran Arzimanov says.

Driving through Chasiv Yar, the policemen emphasize that the fact that the locals remain under fire and do not even leave the city deprives them of the opportunity to survive. And it’s not even about the fact that they can die in their own homes, but about how their instincts work.

«A mandatory condition in the work of policemen is that they change their environment and visit quieter areas. Because when you are constantly under fire, you hear these sounds, you witness strikes and you get used to them. And when you return from a quieter place, instinctively, hearing the sound of flying projectiles, you start looking for shelter with your eyes. The brain thinks about how to survive. And this instinct is significantly dulled when you live in Armageddon,» Kemran Arzimanov says.

The policeman adds that despite the hopes of the locals that the «good Russians» will not touch them, the same Russians who are shelling the houses know that civilians live in the city. And for them, the blood of «peaceful» or «neutral» people is only an excuse for ridicule and bloodthirsty joy in the chat rooms.

On the empty streets of the ruined city, we meet a few residents riding by on bicycles and one man next to the surviving entrance. Law enforcement officers approach him with a question — why he does not evacuate and offer help in leaving Chasiv Yar. But the man dismisses the offer: «Where will I go? I have nowhere to go and no money to live there! As long as the apartment is intact, I will be here.»

There is no heating and light in the city for a long time. The man’s house is heated by a «stove» («burzhuika»), and food comes from humanitarian aid kits. In total, Chasiv Yar currently has about 800 residents.

Law enforcement officers in Chasiv Yar are the last hope for the locals

Law enforcement officers of the Bakhmut district are on duty 24 hours a day in Chasiv Yar under shelling. Only the strongest go on duty here — those who can withstand the conditions of war — constant shelling and risk to life. Every minute, the police are ready to go to the city to help people.

«While Popasna was under Ukrainian control, only large-caliber projectiles reached us: missiles, aviation shells. But as soon as Popasna was occupied, they started shelling us with artillery, and then the „fun times“ began. And now there are strikes everywhere. How do the guys stand at the post when the shelling starts… That’s how they stand. And one of our employees came under fire while standing at a checkpoint — he was miraculously saved by a bulletproof vest. Even though the protection only needs to be thrown away after that, the man is already eager to continue his service,» senior police sergeant of the Bakhmut District Police Department Roman Arikh explains.

Today, life in Chasiv Yara continues — if we are talking about criminal life. According to the police, thefts happen regularly, and local people keep or sell drugs. Sometimes suicides happen. These are all problems that are universal for all of Ukraine, and the situation does not change under shelling.

«The situation is very difficult: shelling does not stop either of the remaining infrastructure or residential buildings. There is no electricity, water supply, heating, or communication. People survive as best they can, we try to help: we bring medicine to those who need it, and locals come to us to charge their gadgets and power banks. Because of this, we have generators and Starlinks constantly working — because this is a need not only for the police but also for the population,» policemen say.

The duty station of the police department is protected and has a shelter with heat from a «burzhuika», light from a generator, beds, and the necessary supply of food. What is happening in the city can be seen on installed cameras and monitors. Fighting spirit is supported by the «assistant on duty» — a kitten named Ihor Yuriyovych, who was rescued from hunger and cold.

There is another side to the work of law enforcement officers in the conditions of war: some who have been in the east and dangerous places since the first day of the war and still cannot get used to shelling or explosions. Some, on the contrary, adapt very quickly to threatening working conditions. This situation is rather individual, and it is almost impossible to be completely sure of a person’s reaction and behavior during the shelling. However, what all law enforcement officers have in common is that each of them, after being wounded, must undergo treatment (lasting about three months) and a medical examination, where the exact condition of the police officer and his real readiness to carry on the service are determined.

Today, the majority of Bakhmut District Police officers who served in the area have remained. Although some resigned or moved to other districts or regions. For example, half of the female staff of Bakhmut police was transferred to other regions. Unfortunately, there were also traitors in the ranks of the Bakhmut police.

«There are some guys who quit. And we even know where they are now — on the occupied territory. We do not know where exactly they serve, but there is video evidence that they are there. And they even thank the „Wagners“ for saving them. Some left for Rostov and the region in the Russian Federation,» Kemran Arzimanov says.

The policeman adds that when the war began, the behavior of some made it clear who and what they were. And even though they were allegedly checked, it still did not stop them from betraying Ukraine. But today, in the ranks of the Bakhmut district police, there are still true patriots devoted to Ukraine who continue to perform their duties on the front-line territory.

Another tortured city, from which everything alive was burned out

All the time, while we were working on our story in Chasiv Yar, there were several explosions every minute. Airstrike, air defense work, strike again, again, and again. These are the sounds of the torture of the city, which began to die even during the capture of Bakhmut. And the demolished floors of buildings are monuments to those who will never return home: either the house is no longer there, or… there is no person.

In the city, the House of Culture, a school, the police station, buildings of enterprises and state authorities, and premises of the social sphere were destroyed. Out of the entire infrastructure, only one store is currently operating here.

The Russians are destroying the city cold-bloodedly and methodically. In August of this year, occupation artillery destroyed the «Point of Invincibility», where people came for help and charged their phones. Several elderly people were injured — from 67 to 76 years old.

«Unfortunately, people here live with the thought: „If I’ll be killed then it is to be my fate“. Many have nowhere to go, and others do not want to leave their property and have decided to die here if not to live,» police officer Kemran Arzimanov says.

The existence of Chasiv Yar today — almost a year since the capture of Bakhmut — is no longer a rhetorical question. The city has died out — and only locals remain surviving here, who seem gray against the background of charred and burnt buildings. Actually, for their sake, the police remain in the city — in the hope that at least a few people can be saved by persuading them to leave. Because even basements are getting empty regularly, if not every day — those who went out to «breathe fresh air» simply do not return alive to them.

Author: Alina Yevych

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