“Now I am a beggar”: fleeing the Russian advance in Ukraine

POKROVSK, Ukraine (AP) — As Russian forces continue their offensive to take the eastern Ukrainian towns of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, civilians who managed to flee say increased shelling over the past week has prevented them even to venture out of the basement bomb shelters.

Despite the attacks, some managed to make it to the city of Pokrovsk, 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the south, and boarded an evacuation train on Saturday heading west, away from the fighting.

Fighting raged around Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk, the last major cities under Ukrainian control in the Lugansk region. Lugansk and the Donetsk region to the south form Donbass, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine which is at the center of the current Russian offensive. Moscow-backed separatists have controlled parts of Donbass for eight years and Russian forces are now trying to capture at least all of Donbass.

Bouncing her 18-month-old son on her lap, Yana Skakova fought back tears as she described living in a basement under relentless shelling and having to abandon her husband when she fled with her baby and 4-year-old son year.

In the beginning, after the outbreak of the war, there were quiet times when they could come out of the basement to cook in the street and let the children play outside. But about a week ago the shelling intensified. For the past five days, they hadn’t been able to venture out of the basement at all.

“Now the situation is bad, it’s scary to go out,” she said.

It was the police who came to evacuate them on Friday from the basement where 18 people, including nine children, had been living for two and a half months.

“We were sitting there, then the traffic police came and they said, ‘You should evacuate as soon as possible, because it’s dangerous to stay in Lysychansk now,'” Skakova said.

Despite the bombardments and the lack of electricity, gas and water, no one really wanted to go there.

“None of us wanted to leave our hometown,” she said. “But for the sake of these little children, we decided to leave.”

She broke down in tears as she described how her husband stayed behind to look after their home and animals.

“Yehor is 1.5 years old, and now he is fatherless,” Skakova said.

Oksana, 74, who was too afraid to give her surname, said she was evacuated from Lysychansk on Friday by a team of foreign volunteers with her 86-year-old husband. There were still other people left behind in the city, she said, including young children.

Sitting on the same evacuation train as Skakova, she broke down and cried. Tears came hard and fast as she described leaving her home for an uncertain future.

“I’m going somewhere, not knowing where,” she cried. “Now I am a beggar without happiness. Now I have to ask for charity. It would be better to kill me.

She had worked for 36 years as an accountant, a civil servant, she said, and the idea of ​​having to rely on others now was unbearable.

“God forbid anyone else suffers from this. It’s a tragedy. It’s a horror,” she cried. “Who knew I would end up in such a hell?”

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Follow all AP stories about the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.

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