‘It’s terrifying to live like this’: Ukrainians under relentless shelling in one of the world’s most dangerous places | world news

A middle-aged woman in a bright yellow hat got out of a white van near the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, one of the most dangerous places on earth.

Smiling happily, Liudmyla Bila handed out a jumble of supplies – from woolen socks and metal pans to dried noodles and cans of beans – to a small group of grateful soldiers.

She even gave them periscopes – useful for looking over a trench – and heart-shaped cookies.

“Guys help us [the troops gave her fuel] – and we help them,” said Liudmyla, 45, before getting back into his van, with two other companions, and heading towards Bakhmut.

Liudmyla Bila distributes supplies to grateful Ukrainian soldiers

The trio are part of a group of volunteers who brave the perilous journey to distribute aid to the few thousand residents who still live in the city despite months of relentless shelling by Russian forces that have pushed most people to flee.

In addition to providing supplies, the volunteers attempt to convince the remaining residents to be evacuated, offering to drive them to safety themselves.

There is no electricity or running water in Bakhmut and the threat of death from shells is constant.

Russia desperate to take the city in the Donetsk region to the east Ukraineafter suffering humiliating defeats elsewhere.

Ukrainian troops are fighting hard but the bloody battle – one of the fiercest of the war – has been called a “meat grinder” due to the huge and growing number of casualties.

A local resident leaves his home after Russian shelling destroyed a building in Bakhmut, Donetsk PIC: AP
A resident leaves his home after Russian shelling destroyed a building in Bakhmut. Photo: AP

For local people caught in the middle, there is an added danger when winter comes and temperatures drop below freezing.

Active combat means even entering the city is high risk.

But Liudmyla said her only son, 22, is a soldier fighting around Bakhmut. She said she wanted to be close, adding, “I’m not scared.”

His volunteer group of around 20 people is called Wings of Liberty, based in the town of Dnipro, about a five-hour drive from Bakhmut.

Ukrainian soldiers in a frontline shelter near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/LIBKOS)
Ukrainian soldiers in a frontline shelter near Bakhmut. Photo: AP/LIBKOS

She goes back and forth to town every week.

Sky News followed her with her team – Olha Ekzarkhova, 35, whose brother was killed on the front line two months ago, and Ian Boiko, 39, who drives the van – to Bakhmut on Wednesday morning.

They stopped in a residential area, surrounded by tall concrete buildings.

Glass was shattered on the floor – evidence that past explosions blew windows.

Volunteers had to work quickly – wanting to minimize their time in the field. The sound of distant explosions and gunfire could be heard.

“People!” shouted Liudmyla as she and Olha rushed from the van to one of the blocks, carrying water bottles, candles, blankets and food.

No one appeared immediately.

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“Fierce” battle for Bakhmut

They left the aid at the top of a small staircase leading to a shelter in the basement. Liudmyla said people lived there.

We knocked on the door of the shelter but there was no response. It turned out that they had gone to another place in town where it is still possible to pick up the cell phone signal.

A tired-looking man was dragging himself to the entrance of the building next door.

Sky News approached him, but he wouldn’t talk and said no one else was there.

Help was delivered, Liudmyla and her team headed further into the city.

We took off to talk with people in a small crowd at the side of a main road.

Desperate and weary, they lined up at a window to try to receive stoves to heat their homes.

Read more:
Eyewitness | Ukrainians fight Russian mercenaries and falling temperatures in the Battle of Bakhmut

A woman walked away from the window empty-handed.

Asked about life in Bakhmut, Oksana, 75, replied: “Very difficult. Very difficult.”

Then her face twisted and her voice cracked.

It’s “impossible, cold – without blankets,” she said.

“It’s bad. We’re cold. The temperature is only 3-5 degrees inside our house.

“We’re waiting here for a stove. They told us to put your names on a list and wait. When is this going to end? When is this going to end? Oh my God.

“Why are they [Russians] so stubborn when it comes to our Bakhmut? And here: war, war, war. They’ve been hitting us all the time for more than six months already.”

Ukrainian service members fight and stay warm in the Donetsk region Sergiy, 35, an operator of a self-propelled artillery vehicle with the Ukrainian army's 24th King Danylo Mechanized Brigade heats water for the cafe while waiting for coordinates to hit a Russian military target as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues near Bakhmut in Ukraine, December 3, 2022. REUTERS/ Leah Millis
Ukrainian servicemen fight and stay warm near Bakhmut

She explained that she lived with her husband who is 82 and too fragile to be evacuated.

“How can I leave him? There are no doctors here. No nurses. There is nothing here.

Oksana said she was worried about having to go through the winter. As she spoke, booms could be heard from incoming bullets, again in the distance.

“We are in the Stone Age. It is terrifying to live like this in the 21st century. And no one in the world can help us. How is it possible?”

With the sound of explosions getting louder and louder, we decided to leave.

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On leaving town, an artillery shell or other form of ammunition exploded ahead. We didn’t see the impact but could see the smoke.

Suddenly there was a loud explosion and our vehicle shook.

A second shell had crashed on the ground to our right, sending shrapnel down the road. He narrowly missed a small car that was right in front of ours – a reminder of the reality and randomness of this war.


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