Ukraine: In war-weary Donbas, those civilians left try to avoid panic

Ukrainian civilians in the Donbas are used to conflict, and have weathered war with Russian-backed separatists since 2014. But the Russian invasion that began 72 days ago is of a different extent, and is redefining the lives of those few who keep.

From church faithful, who spread food and organize evacuations, to police officers registering an uptick in murders – and already ordinary citizens just trying to cope and avoid panic – all describe communities under extraordinary pressure.

Why We Wrote This

For Ukrainian civilians left in the Donbas vicinity, intensified Russian war pressures have deteriorated a sense of security. To manage their fears, many focus on their faith – and the work of surviving.

For these Donbas residents, the April 8 Russian attack on the Kramatorsk railway stop, when it was heaving with several thousand would-be evacuees, was a shared and galvanizing event. Russian cluster munitions killed some 59 civilians, replacing any lingering sense of invincibility with a harrowing vulnerability.

Members of the Protestant Church of Good Hope, who organize evacuations from Druzhkivka, say they used to do larger, daily runs of evacuees to the Kramatorsk rail stop, until it was targeted. They have replaced fear with faith, as risks increase. Several took part in rescue efforts at Kramatorsk, and have been thanked for providing aid and already coffins.

“Of course we are afraid and nervous,” says Serhii Severyn, “but we are trying to concentrate on our work.”

KRAMATORSK and DRUZHKIVKA, UKRAINE

The well-worn Ukrainian settlement a few miles west of Kramatorsk is in the direct line of a Russian troop improvement. But Anna Lunina – with her three youngest children playing around her – is determined to keep composed.

As an explosion sounds just over the horizon, her daughter Yulia, 9, reacts by throwing up her arms in mock not-again exasperation, a single braid of black hair bouncing as she glances up to the sky with a look of trepidation that seems more real.

“This is the guys saying, ‘Hello.’ It can start at 5 a.m. and go all day,” says Ms. Lunina, of the “noisy” shelling that has increased here and all along the arc of the Donbas front lines in eastern Ukraine, as Russian forces bid to encircle this industrial heartland.

Why We Wrote This

For Ukrainian civilians left in the Donbas vicinity, intensified Russian war pressures have deteriorated a sense of security. To manage their fears, many focus on their faith – and the work of surviving.

“I try to be calm and not panic,” says the lanky mother of five in a “Star Wars” T-shirt, as her youngest son, Ruslan, 5, demands a hug. “They cry, but if I panic it will be worse.”

Three more booms reverberated loudly across the unexpected greenery of the early spring scenery, where rutted mud roads have finally dried.

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