“In Kharkov, no Ukrainian knows if he will still be alive tomorrow,” says Lilia, who breaks into a thousand pieces at these words. Her disconsolate cry resounds on the platform of the city subway, where she has been escaping for two months from death, which appears on the surface every day, in front of one of the thousands of inhabitants who still remain in this disputed location.
Lilia assures that she has only cried twice during the war: the first time was when the conflict broke out on February 24. The second, right now: “I’ve tried not to collapse, but I just can’t take it anymore… I’m exhausted,” says this 20-year-old from inside the Kyivska metro station, in the center of Kharkov.
This city, the second largest in Ukraine, has been one of the hardest hit during the war and is now the scene of an offensive by Russian troops that is intensifying day by day. The tens of thousands of inhabitants who have not been able to flee are those who suffer the most from the consequences.
In the last two days, at least 14 people have lost their lives in the intense shelling and artillery fire that almost every minute shakes this city, so coveted by the Russians in their quest to take control of eastern Ukraine.
Like Lilia, tens of thousands of people live in the thirty stations of the Kharkov metro network, now converted into a large air-raid shelter that the little ones call “home”.
Dozens of tents, blankets and chairs are planted on the platform. There are dogs and cats. There are books and pencils. And there are also drawings hanging on the walls of the station: the children have transformed it into a kind of art gallery.
And it is that, in two months of war, the Kyivska station has become a theater of emotions that range from the most disconsolate cry of an adult to the most innocent laughter of a child.
“We are scared from day one, but we try to support each other so we don’t get lost in our misery. We are having a hard time putting up with it physically, but above all psychologically, ”says Alina as she tries to comfort her friend Lilia with caresses on her shoulder.
very delicate situation
Kharkiv’s nightmare is far from over. According to Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, Russian troops are reinforcing their positions with more brigades and more rocket launchers, while Ukrainian forces are running out of steam.
Vitali Kuchma is the leader of a unit of thirty members of the so-called Territorial Defense, a Ukrainian paramilitary organization that mainly carries out humanitarian aid tasks in the most difficult to access areas. Four of his subordinates have died since the war began, this man assures that he refuses to wear a bulletproof vest because he considers it “useless” against the bombings.
“Things are getting worse,” acknowledges Kuchma, who since the offensive intensified has dedicated himself more to evacuation tasks, especially in outlying villages, where the Russians are advancing positions.
The paramilitary finds it difficult to understand why Russia does not provide a humanitarian corridor for trapped civilians to escape, something the Ukrainian government has been negotiating for weeks also in the besieged port city of Mariupol.
“We can’t negotiate with them, they don’t listen, they don’t want to listen to the people of Ukraine,” Kuchma lamented.
But despite the fact that death lurks in every corner of Kharkov, there are still many residents who refuse to flee their homes, mainly due to the anguish and uncertainty of displacement.
One of the neighborhoods that separate the front line from the city is Saltivka, in northeast Kharkov, where residents say that “the chances of dying are quite high.”
And in the midst of the chaos, Olga delicately cleans what thirty minutes ago was the window of her apartment, which she refuses to leave because, she says, it is her lifelong home. “It is what it is,” she says resignedly.