‘We are holding on’: Scars of war visible near the front in eastern Ukraine


(KOSTYANTYNIVKA, UKRAINE) — Alina Ivanchenko and her 9-year-old daughter, Zlata, waited as long as they could before leaving the city of Kostyantynivka in eastern Ukraine. Preparing to leave the relative safety of the central city of Dnipro along with a dozen other locals, the overriding emotion is bittersweet.

“We were postponing till the last minute,” Alina, 40, told ABC News. “We are leaving because of the child. She is afraid of the explosions.”

Zlata’s friends have already left, and many of their neighbors have long fled abroad.

The city, less than 20 miles from the frontline battleground of Bakhmut, has been on the receiving end of near daily shelling from Russian forces for the past two months, she said. Yet the instinct to stay close to their roots stopped them leaving until now.

“I don’t know [why it took so long],” Alina said. “We were thinking: later, later, because we don’t want to leave our home.”

Across the street from the bus stop, the reasons for their departure could not be more evident. In a Soviet-era residential area targeted by Russian shelling at the beginning of April, a destroyed house and a damaged apartment building stand as testament to what the city has endured. Six people were killed and more than 20 residential buildings in the series of Russian strikes on the city, according to the local administration.

Even so, Liubov Zaikina, 72, continues to pick litter from the streets in the heavy rain, the debris sunk into the pools of collecting water. She says she has no choice but to stay in the city.

“Where can I go?” she told ABC News. “I don’t have money to pay rent. There is nothing good I can say now about how it is in the city.”

The main civilian hospital in Kostyantynivka has been treating the wounded from Bakhmut and Chasiv Yar, the cities further east where the daily shelling is even more intense.

Dennis Borshov, 50, a resident of Bakhmut who was a farmer before the full-scale invasion, is recovering at the hospital. Earlier this month he was helping evacuate civilians from the city along with his wife and three other volunteers, when a Russian mortar exploded near their vehicle.

“There was fear,” he told ABC News. “Because just in one moment we all could have died. Thanks to the soldiers, they helped us and pulled us out of there in time. If not for them, we would have been left there. That’s it.”

Borshov now moves with a walker, and the scars on his leg show the area where shrapnel pierced his thigh. Luckily, he said, the shrapnel missed the bone, and the group survived, though one other was seriously injured. But his elderly mother is still in the city, he said, and because there is no cell signal, he has no way to contact her.

The months-long battle for Bakhmut has become the latest byword of destruction in the conflict. Heavy shelling has transformed the landscape, and Borshov’s hometown is now unrecognizable, he said.

“The city has been razed from the face of the earth,” he said. “It basically doesn’t exist anymore.”

Many of the doctors here have left, but crucially all of the surgeons have remained in their posts, tending to the complex wounds of those injured under the bombardment.

The hospital receives patients from the surrounding areas, and while many have been injured in by Russian shelling, the stress of living under the looming threat of the war has had an impact on the health of the elderly and pregnant women, Olena Fillipova, the hospital’s medical director, said. The maternity ward is in the hospital’s basement, and there Fillipova has observed an increased number of complications at birth.

But for the staff remaining there is a job to do, and the work continues — despite the daily challenges of living so close to the frontline.

“It’s hard to say, but I’m coping with this,” she said. “I’ve managed to hold on. We are all holding on. Our team are holding on. We have a faith that all of this will stay Ukrainian territory. And we deeply believe in Ukrainian victory. And this gives us hope for hold on.”

ABC News Uliana Lototska, Natalia Popova and Scott Munro contributed to this report.

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