In Ukraine, residents try to lead a normal existence under bombs

In Ukraine, residents try to lead a normal existence under bombs

Located in the eastern part of Ukraine, in the heart of Donbass, a mining country claimed by Russia, Kramatorsk is only a few dozen kilometers from the front line. Its inhabitants have lived within reach of war for almost ten years.

In the summer of 2014, this large industrial city was bombarded by pro-Russian separatists who were trying to annex it to their self-proclaimed republic. But she doesn’t fall. In the first days of the invasion of the country launched by Vladimir Putin in February 2022, 60% of its population was evacuated.

While the Ukrainians are experiencing their third winter under the threat of bombs, Kramatorsk is trying as best it can to survive under permanent air alerts. But how do civilians live in the shadow of war? Businesses are destroyed, closed or converted, activity is entirely focused on the war economy in support of the tens of thousands of soldiers who have come to settle in homes emptied of their occupants. Schools and health facilities are closed or idling. All daily life is marked by the imprint of danger coming from the east.

Although the city remains a strategic objective of prime importance for the Russian army, the municipal administration is already working on its reconstruction and drawing up plans for future development. To survive the terror of war, we must start thinking about peace tomorrow.

Jean-Michel Demetz

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Built in 1868, the station is at the origin of the founding of Kramatorsk. Today, soldiers leaving for rare leave and those returning to the front meet there. It was the target of a Russian strike in April 2022, during an evacuation of civilians. A terrible toll: 59 dead and 110 injured.

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An industrial hub, Kramatorsk is also a university town with renowned institutions. Closed today, they are providing their courses remotely. The university district was particularly bombed by Russian forces, such as the Donbass State Technical Institute.

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At the pediatric hospital, life has resumed. Once again, children are born and treated there. Even if operations remain precarious, the doctors have returned. The damage caused by the blast from a nearby explosion is being repaired with the help of a French NGO, Korava.

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The vast majority of residents survive on state and municipal benefits. Food aid is essential, particularly for retirees whose pensions do not exceed the equivalent of 100 euros. The town hall organizes distributions to schools several times a week.

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In a war zone, all schools are closed. Between Covid and the Russian invasion, classes have been taught remotely for three years. In 2021, High School No. 4 had 1,500 students and 94 teachers. Today, 560 students are abroad and only 20 teachers still remain in town. According to Irina, the director, this generation has lost at least one year of education.


Simeon suffers from great shyness. Living with his mother and grandmother, he only saw his father, who went to the front, twice in twenty-two months. Without contact with his school friends or his friends from the wrestling club, the boy no longer has a social life. His mother, Natalia, worries about his development.


Farmers from the surrounding villages in the central market: cabbages and pickles in brine, chickens and geese are having a hard time leaving. With inflation of nearly 30% per year since the war and the city’s businesses closing, these basic goods are becoming luxuries.


This winter, the energy situation is proving less catastrophic than last year. Almost all accommodation has gas, electricity and heating. But with temperatures plunging to -15°C, or even -20°C, collective installations require constant maintenance.


Marina has always lived in Kramatorsk. She doesn’t want to leave. She runs a small hairdressing salon there which is often the first stop for soldiers returning from the front. They offer themselves a moment of relaxation, of “returning to life”. As thanks, they offer him all kinds of souvenirs: cartridge cases, grenades, rations taken from the Russian army.


Kataryna speaks of her café as a “therapeutic place,” where soldiers come to enjoy French pastries. Like many civilians, she is involved in fundraising for fighters. The patriotic momentum remains intact: she raised the equivalent of 125,000 euros which will be used to purchase drones, vehicles and night vision equipment.


Military equipment stores have sprung up all over town. Soldiers complete or renew the equipment that the army cannot provide them with. Poorly dressed, the soldiers lack bulletproof vests, warm clothes for winter, and even weapons.

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They are the children of war. These “little bandits”, young adolescents, often hang out in front of downtown supermarkets. Coming from families particularly affected by conflict and poverty, they beg for a few pennies and indulge in petty theft. This delinquency was unknown in Kramatorsk before the Russian invasion.

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