«We Are Ready to Starve and Live Without Electricity»: How Residents of Ukrainian Torske Live Next to the Front Under Russian Shelling

Torske is a village on the border between Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, which survived the occupation. And every day the Russians are methodically erasing the houses from the map of this area, in addition, they are hunting the locals, trying to kill everyone who decides to leave the house.

Before the full-scale invasion, 1,500 people lived in Torske: children, young people, and pensioners. Schools, churches, and stores were working, and people had job within the village. Torske was known in Donetsk oblast as a community with cheese and ceramic factories. After the de-occupation, which took place on October 3, 2022, Torske is known as a front-line village. Several shelling per day, gutted houses (often there are alive people under the rubble). People can be targeted by the projectiles and mines in the middle of the streets. Then the statistics are replenished with injured and killed. Those who miraculously survived even begin to believe in a miracle for a short time or even more strongly believe in God.

A spring of mineral water near the Holy Voznesensk Church in Torske

The Holy Voznesensk Church in Torske today

Dmytro Mazur, a community police officer who used to serve in Torske, explains that people no longer have anyone to hope for, except for the police and God. Even volunteers are forbidden to drive here by any means of transport — only armored cars are allowed. Although it does not guarantee that everyone will return from Torske safe and sound.

Driving along destroyed roads, between shell-burned ghost houses, you want to say «half-alive village». Half, because the sounds of the shelling are mixed with human voices shouting to the neighbors «Hide» or «I'm here, I’m alive».

From Torske to the front line there are 3 km. Therefore, the locals had to get used not only to missiles but also to airstrikes. Considering that the village is a «buffer» zone, the locals wave their hands: «We are also being shelled from tanks, and missiles can reach (the village).» In conversation, when an explosion is heard nearby, they almost calmly shrug their shoulders: «Another strike, it’s okay — it’s somewhere nearby. It’s not scary.» It’s scary when you hear the whistling of missiles. Then you have to save yourself in a few seconds — in the middle of the garden or in a house that is easily «stitched» by debris.

One of the houses in Torske near which residents have been killed as a result of the Russian attack

«The price of civilization»: one thousand hryvnias against the probability of dying

Locals admit to «Vchasno» journalists: today it is not only difficult to survive in Torske, but also expensive. Every drive for a pension or groceries is a challenge that not everyone dares to take on. Therefore, the price of such departures from the village is quite high.

«When there are shelling, you can’t freely drive to the store, so we eat bread and something from the garden, preserves from last year. But before, people had such rides, some even died. We also drive to Lyman sometimes, once a month we rent a car with a driver to take us there. It costs one thousand hryvnias (25 euros — ed.) — one trip there and back,» elderly resident Olena says when she receives bread from the «White Angel» police officers, who are the only ones who come to Torske.

To the words of our journalists that it is expensive, the woman smiles unhappily and says that it is the price for the risk. Although it burdens a significant part of the pension: Olena receives 8 thousand hryvnias of pension, and her husband — 4600 hryvnias (201 and 116 euros ed.).

«This is a risk. We went to Lyman once, and at the newly opened small market, we came under fire. It’s a good thing that I and the people I came with were all together in the store when the shelling started. God saved us somehow… Of course, it is expensive. But life is more precious,» Olena explains.

The woman has a house in Torske and a husband who can’t walk. He refuses to leave his home, and Olena cannot leave him — so they have to at least hope that the Russians will stop shelling the houses. However, she admits that does not believe in any improvement or calm, because since the time of occupation, the Russians have methodically exterminated people — both within the walls of their houses and outside them.

Her house is still intact compared to others. Only the windows were blown away and bent, the roof had to be repaired several times. The woman almost with tears in her eyes shakes her head and says: «It's very difficult to live like this.»

«I don’t have the strength to do that. No one knows when it will end, and how long will we last. There are still about 150 people living in our village, but is this life? There is no light, no mobile communications. We survive as best we can: we get humanitarian assistance, and then we planted a vegetable garden. We took care of it, planted it under these missiles and bombs… Well, it happens that you go out into the garden, start doing something, and then shelling starts. You leave everything and run into the house. And staying in the house does not make it safer,» the woman notes.

«We are ready to starve if in this case shelling would stop»

Olena’s neighbor on the nearby street is Svitlana. The woman is already a pensioner, and she also does not think of going anywhere from her native Torske.

The police officers who are standing nearby look at the horizon line and listen for the sounds of war: if they notice something that resembles the take-off of a plane or the launch of missiles, they will have a few seconds to react. And how many people will return home today will depend on it.

Despite her smile and cheerful disposition to the sound of strikes, the woman’s story is not fun. She tells it with tears in her eyes, while nearby explosions are heard — the Russians are less than 2 kilometers from where we are standing.

«Living here is hard, yes. But where to go? How much does an apartment or a house cost? Here, once a month you receive a pension — 2.5 thousand hryvnias (62 euros — ed.) — and this is only enough for a trip to the pharmacy to buy medicine. And the rest is from the garden: potatoes, canned peas, and so on,» Svitlana says.

Her house is damaged. There are no windows, window frames, or doors — everything was blown away or knocked out by the blast wave. Debris from projectiles damaged the roof — it was repaired more than 10 times. There are no fences in the yard or the neighbors' - they were destroyed or «twisted» by the same shelling that miraculously did not kill the woman and the neighbors.

«We're burning a stove and a candles. So I came home yesterday, there was no electricity — and I lit a candle that was given to us in the church, and we sat with my husband and played cards. And what else should we do?» Svitlana smiles.

Torske is an example of when the Russians «downgraded» a civilized village to the level of the Russian countryside. There are no mobile communications here, from the news — only who was killed or who managed to evacuate. If you need to call someone, you will either have to drive a few kilometers away from Torske or climb up to the roofs of houses. It’s also not a fun activity, especially when missiles are flying overhead, and somewhere a Russian plane is buzzing, taking off for an airstrike.

Pensioners, who are the vast majority here, have to seriously choose what to do today — whether to climb the ladder to talk to someone, or to talk to the neighbors (which sounds less traumatic).

«We have word-of-mouth communication here. People tell where shelling took place, who was killed, and what was destroyed. We remember those who were killed. My son was killed in the attack four months ago, near the yard. 45 years… I had two sons and a daughter — none of them are alive now. The daughter was killed in 2012, and the youngest son went missing even before the full-scale war, in 2018. And the eldest son died here, already after the occupation… The grandchildren evacuated. So together with my husband, we have our own „battle“ here,» Svitlana laughs quietly.

«We hope for the best: that one day we will have peace, electricity, opened stores, public transport…»

Oleksandrovych, a neighbor and village driver who most often drives people from Torske to Lyman, adds that not everyone can live in such conditions, to which the Russians forced locals even before the occupation. Therefore, people are built differently.

«So, what do we have in the village? Generators, batteries, LED lamps and tapes. We have everything,» Oleksandrovych smiles and lists.

The villagers admit to us that although they are used to and adapted to constant shelling, it is still scary. Therefore, when the Russians start shooting, everyone hides somewhere.

«When we hear something we run as fast as we can! We run to the basement and sit there. And they shoot every hour for sure — to target us. And that week missiles flew every day. We already know by the sound what it is flying from and where it is coming from,» the neighbors told «Vchasno».

Despite the good mood, jokes about gambling, and fellow villagers, in a conversation with journalists, both women and Oleksandrovych seriously state: if it depended on them that the Russians would stop shelling, they are ready to live in such conditions forever.

«If today we melt down, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow we might die. And this is how we move on, hoping for the best: that one day we will have peace, electricity, opened stores, buses… But for now, this is it. But the main thing is shelling to stop, we don’t need anything else. We even agree to starve if in this case shelling would stop,» residents of Torske say.

When we say goodbye to the locals and go to the car, people follow us and wish us a good trip and a safe journey. At this time, a projectile hit nearby, to which they almost do not react — they simply wave at the car. Being left alone again with attacks, deaths, darkness, and war one and a half kilometers from their home.

Author: Alina Yevych

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