Ukrainian New York on the Front Line: How Locals Live under the Russian Shelling in the Ruins of the Soviet Past

The village of New York (until 2021, named Novhorodske) in Donetsk oblast of Ukraine is situated almost on the front line, in the area which since 2014 is one of the few where the Russian occupiers have not been able to break through the defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

The village is currently beyond survival. From the extreme location of the village of New York in the Toretsk community of the Bakhmut district to the occupied territory is approximately 1−2 km. At the same time, the probability of leaving New York safe and sound is small: Russians shoot through the road to this settlement. It is only 6 km from the occupied city of Horlivka.

Even in such proximity to the «liberators», the active community of the village dreamed of the development of the Ukrainian future and the restoration of the historical name of their settlement. After all, in 1860 it was called New York. A year before the full-scale invasion, the «Ukrainian New York in Donetsk oblast» group of active citizens, together with like-minded people, achieved the return of the historical name of New York to the village of Novhorodske. This event united local patriots and opened up new opportunities for the development of the village. In the fall of 2021, the village hosted the New York Literature Festival for the first time in which famous Ukrainian writers and poets like Serhii Zhadan, Olena Styazhkina, and Ruslan Horovyi took part.

The idea of this event belongs to the writer Victoriia Amelinia, who two years after the festival was killed by the Russians during the shelling of the Kramatorsk cafe «RIA». In May 2023, the occupiers dropped a FAB-250 aerial bomb on a local club in New York, where the Festival was held, which destroyed what the locals had preserved and restored.

This club was built in 1950. Artistic amateur groups and sports sections worked here, and there was also a fan club of fans of the Shakhtar football club.

This club was built in 1950. Artistic amateur groups and sports sections worked here, and there was also a fan club of fans of the Shakhtar football club.

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 not only slowed down the development of the village but also put a small New York on the verge of survival — it is currently under constant fire from the Russians, who use not only artillery but also aviation. Most of the civilian population was forced to evacuate. About those who remain in this dangerous place read below.

The streets of New York are empty today, only full with the constant echo of heavy explosions, and the occasional passer-by can be seen. They are mainly elderly people with gloomy faces, doom is in every movement of the locals. Not everyone is inclined to talk to strangers, but we were able to speak with some residents.

People explain to «Vchasno» journalists that those who wanted to run away from the war did so back in 2014. The second chance was in 2022. And as of today, almost everyone who is in New York consciously stays here to die. Some have nowhere to go, others don’t want to. New York is now completely gray even on sunny days — colorless with a hint of Soviet times «ghosts».

Empty streets of New York

Most of the infrastructure of the village is destroyed

Most of the infrastructure of the village is destroyed

Empty streets of New York

One of the women who passed by refused to give us an interview — the day before our journalists came here, her relative was killed by a Russian missile. The woman does not plan to leave — she says that there is nowhere to go, and she does not want to.

«Previously, delegations even from India came to us, women at factories worked in coats and handkerchiefs… But since 1991, all of it was gone»

In the 19th century, German Mennonites established a local park, which developed very actively in Soviet times. Today, the deserted and abandoned park inspires an eerie feeling — lonely swings for children, tacky figures of fairy-tale heroes, and busts of writers Pushkin, Mayakovsky, and Gorky. It is known that in the USSR, such works were molded in batches according to molds sent from Moscow and, at that time, Leningrad.

All this can be observed today to the sounds of Russian artillery, which is desperately trying to return Ukrainian New York to its rotten past.

Fairy-tale characters on the playground in the park

Alley of writers in the local park

Alley of writers in the local park

Alley of writers in the local park

Summer cinema and fountain in the park of New York

The locals we meet in the village barely hide their sympathy for the Soviet Union. Either because they are mostly pensioners, or because of the possible perspective of the imminent coming of the «Russian world». The most infuriating fact for them is that the local «club» in the center of the village, which worked during the Soviet Union, allegedly did not work for the past 30 years. And the fountain «with fish», located nearby, was also not launched — as the authorities would have done in the Soviet Union, and the discipline at the plant was no longer army-like, as, in the times of the USSR, one of the pensioners convinces the journalists of «Vchasno».

«Now our settlement has the status of village, but before that, we were a city. 22 thousand people, several working factories, 16 enterprises… Previously, people from neighboring cities and even Kostyantynivka came to work here. The village was beautiful before! Delegations came to us from everywhere, even from India. Women used to work in white coats, handkerchiefs… But since 1991, all this has disappeared, I don’t want to use swear words. After that, only the phenolic plant held on,» says Leonid, a 72-year-old resident of New York whom we met in the park.

The pensioner recalls that he used to often go with his family to Lyman and Izyum to pick mushrooms. Now, he is only able to walk nearby several times a week. And sometimes — to collect mushrooms in the understory. Although with groceries, he says, the situation is more or less normal — in the three operating stores in New York you can find everything. Humanitarian aid comes in handy too, but there is a «but» for Soviet pensioners.

«We have a humanitarian aid brought here — the Baptists who were involved in the Maidan (a wave of demonstrations, which began on 21 November 2013 with large protests in Independence Square in Kyiv. The protests were sparked by President Viktor Yanukovych’s sudden decision not to sign the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement, instead choosing closer ties to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union. Euromaidan led to the 2014 Revolution of Dignity — ed.) … The priest often brings here something to eat and clothes. I don’t go there, but elderly women and single women who have lost their jobs often go there,» the man says.

An interesting observation: Leonid communicates with journalists in Ukrainian — he says that he does so because he is currently reading a book in Ukrainian. The man adds that he likes the Ukrainian language much more than the Russian.

«How does a confession of love sound in Russian? „Я тебя люблю“. And in Ukrainian — „Я тебе кохаю“. Very nice, I like the Ukrainian language. And how wonderful Ukrainian songs are! Now in Russia, they are remastering our songs and singing them in Russian. And some even sing in Ukrainian, because it won’t sound so good in Russian,» the man smiles.

Leonid has no plans to leave New York. He jokes that he has his own small «booth» house, which once saved him from death — he was standing behind the wall of the house when the missile hit. It saved him — overall that time eight strikes occurred. The pensioner shrugs off and says that doesn’t want to go to an unknown place.

«You know, I walk here every day — and there is not even a soul. A bunch of people come out of nowhere only when humanitarian aid is distributed,» the pensioner laughs.

An equipped recreation area next to a residential high-rise building

Many residential buildings were destroyed not only by war, but also by time and the inaction of officials

A residential building destroyed by Russian shelling

Another resident of New York, 73-year-old Lyudmyla, notes that for her and her friends, the war in 2014 came suddenly. In the conversation, the woman says «Combat fighting is illegal», but does not explain what exactly she means. He treats us with suspicion — and first tries to understand what political views we have.

«We lived here, and the phenolic plant worked, people had jobs, they received money… Now they live on humanitarian aid. A lot of people left in general, only pensioners remained. Even though there are explosions, we are used to it, and that’s why we are staying. There is light and water,» the woman says.

At the same time, Lyudmyla adds in the conversation that she does not like the renaming of New York itself from «Novhorodske» and its streets. The woman also does not want to answer that her friends are thinking about the war — she says that she does not understand anything about politics. She only says that people just want to survive and not leave anywhere.

4 last stores. 2 thousand hryvnias by taxi to Kostyantynivka

Locals believe that the situation with products in New York is positively stable. As the sellers of one of the village’s shops explain, people most often buy bread and chicken backs, sweets and tea for themselves. But the most popular product is food for cats and dogs. The rest of the needs are completely «covered» by humanitarian aid, which is also brought here.

«We have four shops, a small market as well — until 13:00., but every day — mostly local people who come from neighboring villages sell their goods there. And people try to get to the shops in the first half of the day — both because of security, so they don’t come under fire, and because it gets dark early,» saleswoman Iryna explains.

If someone wants to buy something in a store in Kostyantynivka or Toretsk (the nearest unoccupied cities from New York), you have to go there by bicycle (who has one) or ask one of the local drivers to take you there. If there are none, call a taxi. The cost of such a trip from New York to Kostyantynivka is about 2 thousand hryvnias (more than 52 dollars -ed). To Toretsk — 600 UAH.

Before the full-scale invasion, it was possible to travel by bus to Toretsk for 20 hryvnias, and for 60 hryvnias to Kostyantynivka. Although today, according to saleswoman Iryna, some desperate people go to the city on foot — it takes about an hour one way.

At the same time, Leonid, a pensioner, adds that the situation with medicines is not that good. For example, when medicines are sent to them from the Dnipro — they can pay half as much as buying the same medicine at a pharmacy in New York.

The most popular product in local stores is pet food

The once popular coffee shop «New York» no longer works. Instead of it, there is a grocery store

«I don’t spoil myself with anything — I send everything to my wife and children»: the life of men in New York

Vitaliy looks about 35−40 years old. He works at one of the local enterprises that provides the village with light. In his spare time, the man makes part-time repairs of apartments and houses. He says that there are enough orders, but he does not ask whether the owners of the houses plan to return to the city, or whether they are renovating the houses so that they are relatively intact for longer.

«Most often, people ask to fix or board up windows and roofs — either after attacks, or damaged over time. They ask to install new locks because people steal if they see that the house or apartment is open,» the man says.

Many people invested a lot of money in the renovation of their houses on the eve of the full-scale invasion — and now they are staying in New York, because of the loss of finances.

The man says that he still has a job here because his family has evacuated in the summer, and their financial support is on him. He admits that it is scary to live in New York because of the constant shelling, but the salary here is good — much higher than in the center of Ukraine.

«I got my family out when the fragments of the projectile covered the yard, the door… They have to pay 8,000 hryvnias rent per month for an apartment, even with utilities. I spent all summer climbing and fixing the roofs — and all the money went to the teeth of the son, 37 thousand were paid to the dentist for pulling out 10 teeth and treating seven more. And you have to buy something to eat. And the clothes are getting worn out, right? They need a new one. So I work here, I send everything to my wife. I leave up to 8,000 UAH for my life, because I have my own house, and I only need money for gas, cigarettes, and food. I don’t spoil myself with anything — this amount does not include spending on clothes and shoes. Sometimes I sit and think: „What the hell are you doing here…“ And then, when I need to send money to my wife, I keep staying here while there is work. And I haven’t seen my family for eight months. And even if I want to leave, I need to finish repairing the car because it also was damaged several times during the strikes, some mechanical things need to be put in order,» Vitaliy says.

The man himself treats Russians with contempt and indifference: he has relatives in Russia, but has not communicated with anyone since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. From that moment on, they were brainwashed in a special way.

«What can we say about Russia, if you come here to medium-age or older women or to repair something — and you listen to how bad their life is and how they are waiting for them to come (Russians — ed.). I’ve already stopped drinking because it’s hard to listen to this when my nerves are so ragged. It happens that you sit on the roof, and there is a missile strike — and it is close — two houses away from you, also on the roof. And what will you do? Nothing,» the man says.

Today, the front-line village does not even survive — the occupiers destroy it every day, killing those who remain. Shelling is so common here that only a close strike makes the locals duck.

At the same time, hope for the restoration of New York rests in the Donetsk Regional Military Administration — at least there they establish communication and agreements with the American state of the same name.

«The representative of the Washington office of the state of New York, Basil Seggos, was in the town of New York, Donetsk oblast. This is the historical name of the city, which was returned to it a few years ago. This cooperation is an additional element of recognition of the legitimacy and Ukrainian future of our cities,» Vadym Filashkin, head of the Donetsk RMA, said the other day. According to him, this is a step for the future recovery and development of Donetsk oblast. In addition, the public signing of the memorandum will be an additional confirmation that the cities of the USA recognize the absurd and illegal attempt of Russia to make the Donetsk oblast its property.

Children’s playground in one of the courtyards of the village. There were no children on these carousels for several months — on October 18, all children were officially evacuated from New York

Post office in New York. In a 3×4 meter room, the postwoman issues pensions and payments. The working hours are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Remnants of industry in New York

Remnants of industry in New York

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