MISE À DAY
The small radio station emits, with whistles, the latest news of Russian victories in Ukraine.
In the darkness of their cellar, under a garden of children of Lyssytchansk, six women and a man wonder if they should be believed. They even wonder on which side are the soldiers who pass over their cellar.
What they are sure of is that the kindergarten in this city very close to the Donbass front line was hit a few days earlier by a volley from Grad.
And that an unexploded rocket is now planted outside the door of their shelter.
Their fears oscillate between the possibility that their only access to the outside world may be suddenly clogged with debris, and that which Russian forces suddenly land without warning in their shelter.
“The Russians on the radio just said they took Bakhmout. It's true?” asks Natalia Georgievna with anguish, referring to a locality located about fifty kilometers to the south-west, still under Ukrainian control.
“We really doesn't know anything,” whispers her neighbour, Viktoria Viktorovna, sitting on a cot in a corner, out of sight of the single ray of light that illuminates one end of the cellar. “I believe the Ukrainians are still here, right?”
Nearly three months of war have transformed Lyssychansk, a mining town of some 100,000 mostly Russian-speaking inhabitants, into an abandoned area with no water, electricity or telephone network.
Most of the inhabitants who remained emerging from the shelters during respites in the bombardments, in the afternoon, to go straight to the small source of water north of the city. They fill bottles with water that must then be boiled before drinking.
Some women in the basement of the kindergarten — who give their patronymic name and not their family name for fear of reprisals — say they have not been out in the open for two months.
The contradictory news bulletins – depending on whether they are Russian or Ukrainian – emitted by the small radio station only fuel their feeling of isolation and their fear, which sometimes verges on paranoia.
The Kremlin has been spreading its news vision throughout eastern Ukraine since 2014, when pro-Russian separatist forces backed by Moscow seized control of part of Donbass.
“ The Russians say they are winning and the Ukrainians too,” says Natalia Georgievna. “When we still had the internet, we could watch the news, but now…we have no idea who is behind these voices or where they are coming from.”
Locals believe the volley of Grads who fell on the kindergarten earlier this week was destined for a school across the yard, where Ukrainian soldiers were stationed.
The presence of the military in civilian buildings is one of the controversial topics fueling the information war: among the inhabitants, some are furious against the Ukrainian military, but others point out that they have no choice in the face of Russian forces attacking their cities.
“We no longer know which side they are on”
Lyssytchansk is very close to the front line. The Russians are approaching, from three directions, Severodonetsk, a town separated from Lyssytchansk only by the Siverskyi Donets river. The Ukrainians are putting all their strength into the battle to prevent the Russian forces from crossing it.
Witnessing the anxieties of the inhabitants, Oleg Zaïtsev, a 53-year-old miner, is as worried about the identity of the men in arms driving through deserted streets as bombings.
“I'm especially afraid that a stranger will stop me and ask me for my papers. We no longer know which side they are on,” he said before returning to his shelter. “It could be Russians, and who knows what would happen”.
In the cellar of the kindergarten, Yevguen Poltchikha especially fears the explosion of the rocket left planted in the ground in front of the door from the shelter.
“She stays there. Our kindergarten seems strong enough, but you never know,” he says.