Ukraine: The last residents of Bakhmut refuse to leave


Despite an influx of Western weapons sent to Ukraine, Russia claims to be advancing in the region in recent days

The last remaining residents of Bakhmut, a town in eastern Ukraine that has been hammered since last summer by the Russian military, say they have no plans to leave even as the Russians close in.

“How could I leave,” asks Natalya Chevchenko, 75. She has spent so long hiding in her basement that she feels “like a mole” as she steps out into the light, closing her eyes.

“Don’t worry,” he tells AFP despite the sounds of gunfire in the background, “they’re far away. Now I know where they will fall.”

Russian forces have been trying for months to take control of Bakhmut, in the longest and bloodiest battle since the Russian invasion that began on February 24 last year.

Despite an influx of Western weapons sent to Ukraine, Russia claims to be advancing in the region in recent days.

Bahmout, which before the war had about 75,000 inhabitants, has been transformed into a ghost town, littered with anti-tank barricades and burnt-out vehicles. There is no more gas, electricity or running water.

– Blood on the snow –

About seven thousand people, mostly elderly, still live there despite constant artillery fire and the drone of drones. A 12-year-old boy and a 70-year-old man were killed on Tuesday.

During a visit to Bahamut yesterday, an AFP team saw smoke rising from the northern part of the city.

The snow is marked with blood where a Ukrainian army vehicle was the target of a previous Russian strike in the western part of the city. Next to broken glasses is what looks like human flesh.

Outside the city, Ukrainian soldiers are trying to reinforce their positions. The river that runs through the Bahamut has become the key dividing line for the battles.

Natalya Chevchenko, who lives on the east bank, risks her life every day to cross the bridge and go in search of water.

Those who could have left, yet others, like the old woman, seem to have been left to their own devices.

“The gas, it’s not that serious. If we had electricity, everything would be much easier,” she explained, before adding: “We could warm up, cook.”

“The worst thing is that there is no network,” he said. “I can’t call my family. I have two children, one is in Kyiv and the other is in Odessa. Their children are young, so they were forced to leave,” he explained.

Nadia Burdinska, 66, said she had lived in Bakhmut all her life and had no intention of leaving, even though, she said, “only a madman would not be afraid” in these conditions.

“Everything is possible, if God wills it I will stay alive,” she said outside her Soviet-era building.

To keep warm, she had to buy a stove for 3,500 hryvnias (about 87 euros) and ask the authorities to give her cheap food: “This is how we live in the 21st century.”


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