In eastern Ukraine, a natural water source is the only lifeline

Artem Tcheroukha crouched down and listened to the shells whizzing above him between the Russian and Ukrainian positions, while filling plastic bottles with water.

A few steps away, the tail of a missile”Hurricane“, the size of a man, hangs in the branches above a verdant ravine.

Cheroukha, 41, seems oblivious to the conflict surrounding her. He is there, elbows on knees, waiting for the drops of water to fall.

I feel total apathy. I’m morally drained, not to mention physically“, he said in a voice devoid of emotion. “We’re sitting here counting the bombs“.

– “It can hit anywhere“-

Several industrial towns on the eastern front of Ukraine no longer have access to water or food. In the basements, an uncertain number of inhabitants are holed up, surviving in increasingly difficult conditions.

Before the February 24 Russian invasion, Lyssychansk, in the Lugansk region in the heart of the Donbass, was a major coal mining center, with some 100,000 jobs and centuries-old churches.

A ghostly atmosphere reigns in the streets now in ruins, while the surrounding roads are bombarded with such intensity that the humanitarian missions bringing supplies are stopped.

On the main roads out of Lysytchansk and the neighboring city of Severodonetsk, you can see some of the most hardened Ukrainian units retreating, with their big guns. In more than two months of war, Russian forces have made progress in this region of Lugansk, whose governor has repeatedly called on its inhabitants to evacuate.

The few vehicles that venture onto these roads at breakneck speed in an attempt to evade rocket and mortar fire appear to be primarily intended to rescue wounded Ukrainian soldiers.

In the city, the few inhabitants who venture out of the cellars to see a ray of sunshine and fill their bottles at the source in the middle of the trees seem shocked by what they see.

There is no more water in the city. We come here because it’s the only place“, declares in a hesitant voice Andriï Titiounkov, welder.

But when the shelling is really too strong, you absolutely have to stay inside“, says this 39-year-old man.

If the strikes are intense, it can strike anywhere“.

– “Irreparable damage“-

Several generations of people from the north of Lysychansk have come to fill their bottles at this hidden spring: once during the Second World War, then at the height of the conflict with the Moscow-backed Donbass separatists in 2014, and again today .

The municipal administration explains for its part that the damage to the water supply network is “irreparable“.

There will be no water in the city until the end of the war“, announced the authorities on social networks at the end of April.

So in the meantime, this natural source is the only salvation.

The water flowing from it, however, has passed through soil impregnated with chemicals, in this region among the most polluted in Eastern Europe.

A ravine near the spring is full of bubbling toxic waste that flows from one of the city’s many factories.

We have to boil the water“, explains in all and for all Volodymyr Ivanov.

Looks pretty clean, but no one has ever tested it directly“, said this former sailor, holding his bottle facing the sun to better inspect it. “Who knows what’s really inside?

– Lack of food –

In times of war, even the most basic of tasks – boiling water – becomes perilous.

Tcheroukha boils his own on a stove because the gas network is still working. A cut would force him to light a fire in the courtyard of his building.

But people are too scared to do that. Someone might see you and shoot you for it. Impossible to know how people will react at the moment“, he launches.

There is also the lack of food.

We have almost nothing“, he says, adding that the last deliveries of humanitarian aid date back to the beginning of last week.

My children are small and they always run around laughing and smiling. It’s good to laugh. But that’s because they don’t understand“What’s happening,” says the father of seven, who says he still has enough food to last two or three days.

Even if I decide to ration and feed my children only once a day, we will only have enough for three days.“, he said. “How do you tell your kids there’s nothing to eat?

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