“We have to live”: near the front in Ukraine, life goes on despite the threat

Viktoria Miroshnichenko is back to work in her toy shop, which like other shops has just reopened in Kramatorsk near the front lines in eastern Ukraine, despite the sounds of daily shelling in the distance.

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“It’s a little scary, but you get used to it,” admits the saleswoman at the counter of the store, which sells stuffed animals, bikes and scooters for children, who has been unemployed for nearly three months, during which she says she has not was received almost no public aid.

The shop had closed its doors shortly after the start of the Russian offensive on February 24, along with most other shops in Kramatorsk, a town in the industrial Donbass region.

But in the last few weeks they have gradually reopened and many people are coming back. “On my street, where there are around 300 houses, almost all the residents were gone, now almost all have returned,” says Ms. Miroshnichenko.

The situation is paradoxical. Kramatorsk, a large city in the center of what remains of Donbass under Ukrainian control, is gradually coming back to life as Russian artillery shelled Sloviansk to the north, Siversk to the northeast, and Bakhmout to the southeast.

But people have no choice but to go home, said Oleg Malimonienko, who just reopened his restaurant. “In 99 percent of the cases it’s because you have to eat well, pay the rent and the bills,” says the 54-year-old Chubby.

He now hopes that his establishment’s clientele will return, perhaps welcoming Ukrainian soldiers who can be seen all over the city.

“The military buy most of their items from us, especially knives and daggers,” says Natalia Kiritchenko, a shop assistant at a small shop that reopened after being closed for three months.



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“Many people have returned to Kramatorsk like us, but they have no money,” adds the 56-year-old, who had no choice but to go back to work. She says she received government aid during the store’s closure, which was far from enough to make ends meet.

“When we hear more or less heavy bombing from one side or the other, we feel the threat and wonder what awaits us,” adds Ms. Kirichenko resignedly.

The hardest thing about getting to work without a car, Ms. Miroshnichenko notes, “is the public transport, because the trams stop every time the bomb sirens sound,” and they blare many times from morning to night.

“Since the store reopened ten days ago, I’ve come here before on foot,” or 50-minute walk, she adds.

Difficulties in getting around in and out of the city were precisely the reason why the “Centre for Bicycles” resumed its operations, explains one of the employees of this shop in the basement of a building, Vladimir Pozolotin.

“Many have asked me on my YouTube channel when we will reopen because some are afraid to take the car, others are out of gas or don’t want to get in the long lines at gas stations, so need to buy a bike or come get their fixed.” “, explains the 33-year-old, who cycles four kilometers to and from work every day.

At the moment, “the clientele only represents 10% of what it was before the war,” “but it’s better than nothing,” smiles the young man in a black tracksuit jacket, his cap screwed on his head.

He says he’s also getting used to the sound of the bombing, which is currently sparing Kramatorsk, where he’s stayed since the conflict began.

“If it falls around here,” he said, referring to the rocket fire that hit nearby towns, “we’ll see.” What if the city is under serious threat? “Abandoned? But where?”



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