On January 16 I drove to Kharkiv, where at that time the Ukrainian military forces had already driven the Russian invaders away, but the shelling of the outskirts of the city had not ended. My goal was to document the situation in the residential areas and on the outskirts of the city after the withdrawal of the Russian troops. My route included Saltivka — a dormitory area on the north-east outskirts of Kharkiv, P’yatykhatky — a village on the north of the city and the small town of Merefa, which is located on the south-west part of the Kharkiv region.
On the way to Saltivka, you can see an entirely devastated area with houses without even a single solid window. There is very poor mobile phone service, no gas, light or water. If you move deeper into the neighborhood, you can see people in the yards, cooking food in the heat. These people stayed in the area, which had been bombed by the Russian troops for two months at a time. I was particularly struck by their mood. Everyone I spoke with tried to respond with humor to questions, and one lady, when I said, “Thank you for laughing, ” said, “It’s impossible to survive the war without laughing”.
In P’yatyhatky I had a chance to talk to the residents of a house, ¼ of which was completely destroyed. Most of the residents had left the house, but a small part stayed. They also had no water or gas, but they already had light, without which they lived for a month and a half. Residents of the building equipped the basement with a place to cook food in the heat and a summer shower cabin (at the time of my stay in Kharkiv the temperature of the air on the day did not exceed 15 degrees). In the basement, I met Oleksandr Makarov, who was watching a movie on an old DVD set-top box. He told me that he could not get in touch with his mother, who, as he said, was helped by volunteers to evacuate during the shelling of around September 17, but at the time of our conversation her phone was disconnected, and the man did not know the direction in which the woman was taken. He himself lives in a shelter, because during another shelling he lost the keys to the apartment and cannot get in there.
While walking around Merefa, I came upon a bombed-out school, which I was told had volunteers cooking food for the residents. It seems that someone from the neighborhood passed this information to the occupants. Fortunately, no one was injured on the night of the attack on the school.
The school in Merefi was not the only school I saw that was bombed. In P’yatykhatky, the occupants bombed specialized school number 62. I did not find any traces of the presence of soldiers in the school — only the changeable clothing bags left in the former school closet. The damage from spills on the school grounds was sometimes up to 1.5 meters in depth.
The shellings of Kharkiv continue to this day.