Tamara Mikheenko, 70, was crying while hiding with her two children, Larisa and Aleksandr Mikheenko, in an underground shelter in Orihiv, Ukraine. Photo Lynsey Addario/The New York Times.
ORIKHIV, Ukraine-Caught between Ukrainian and Russian front lines on the increasingly volatile battlefield in southeastern Ukraine, the small town of Orikhiv continues to be ravaged, and Tamara Mikheenko, one of the few remaining residents, he rarely left his basement.
“All the time in basements, at night, under fire,” Mikheenko, 70, said, as another explosion rang out outside.
A residence destroyed by a shell the previous day in the frontline city of Orihiv, Ukraine. Photo Lynsey Addario/The New York Times.
“It was so scary, like lightning, everything collapsed, the house collapsed.”
Struggling to speak through tears on Tuesday, Mikheenko pleaded with world leaders, including the presidents of the United States, Russia and Ukraine, to do whatever is necessary to stop the atrocities, even Russian forces seems to be preparing a great offensive the authorities said. Orikhiv could be crushed in the next few days.
“Let them agree to stop this madness,” he said.
Last night, an explosion occurred in the vacant house next door, violently shaking the dark cellar where Mikheenko was hiding.
Orikhiv belongs to a small constellation of ordered agricultural villages standing right in the way of Russian troops advancing from the south and east.
A makeshift shrine in the basement shelter where 70-year-old Tamara Mikheenko is imprisoned in the frontline city of Orihiv, Ukraine. (Lynsey Addario/The New York Times)
Ukrainian officials believe Russian forces are preparing to make a major push in an attempt to expand a stretch of territory they seized in the early days of the war.
Shelling on this front has intensified in recent days and Ukrainian forces are digging throughout the region. new trenches and strengthens positions.
Yuri Karapetyan, left, mayor of the city of Komyshuvakha, looks at a dilapidated residential house in Orihiv, Ukraine. (Lynsey Addario/The New York Times)
It is in and around these villages, which are still home to goats, cows and chickens but little by little people, that the present and important stage of the war is being fought.
After failing to capture the capital, kyiv, and still encounter insurmountable resistance on the Black Sea coast of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin Russia directed the remaining power of its army towards the fertile plains of Ukraine east of the Dnieper River and several major major cities.
Russian forces have already swallowed almost 80% of the region of the Donbas, as well as a piece of land linking Russia’s territory to the Crimean peninsula, which Putin annexed in 2014.
One by one, the towns south and east of Orikhiv fell into the hands of Russia.
Vitaliy Kononenko in his son’s room the morning after a shell hit his new home in the frontline city of Orihiv, Ukraine. Photo Lynsey Addario/The New York Times.
Ukrainian forces, mainly from the 128th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade, are now buried in the forests around and between these towns and the vast fields of wheat and sunflower tended by their residents.
The brigade soldiers said they were preparing to stop the expected Russian offensive and even push back Russia’s lines.
But if Orikhiv also falls, Russian forces will have an almost open path to the vast industrial metropolis of Zaporizhzhia, less than 40 miles away.
Zaporizhzhia’s pre-war population of approximately 750,000 grew with the daily arrival of evacuees from nearby territory now occupied by Russian forces, including the battered port city of Mariupol.
Around Zaporizhzhia, there is a sense of imminent danger.
Air-raid sirens now sound several times a day and the local military hospital is full of troops coming from the front lines with horrific damage.
On Tuesday, the Russian military launched a rocket attack on targets inside the city, with almost none of it. nuclear power plantthe largest in Europe when fully functional, according to authorities.
The rockets hit a utility company in the city, killing one person, though the local government did not provide further details.
Since the start of the war on February 24, rocket attacks have been rare in Zaporizhzhia.
Not so in Orikhiv.
The city is only 5 kilometers from the Russian lines, and shelling occurs throughout the day, becoming intense at night.
Several homes were attacked overnight Tuesday, including Mikheenko’s neighbor, Vitaliy Kononenko.
“This is what the Russian world brought us,” Kononenko said, investigating the large hole drilled in front of his house.
Inside, the plastic ceiling tiles melted and the fur of a large teddy bear sitting on a child’s bedroom window sang.
The house, which Kononenko said he had just finished building, would burn to the ground if Mikheenko’s son Aleksandr didn’t rush out of the basement to kill it.
Orikhiv Mayor Kostyantin Denisov said the city miraculously suffered no casualties despite the ongoing shooting.
This is due to the initial decision to evacuate as many people as possible.
Now, there’s just about that 30% of the population from the pre -war city of 20,000 people, he said.
Some of those still in the city, like Mikheenko, remain locked in their cellars, but not all.
Among the neat clusters of single-family homes on Tuesday was an occasional anxious resident in a flowery yard.
Gunshots rang out in the distance, as if they were training targets.
Denisov remained in place, refusing to leave his office in the peach -colored building of City Hall.
He was needed, he said, to help defend the city.
Not an easy task, as the 251-year-old city was formerly located on several trade routes and had at least seven roads leading to it.
“Now we need to close these routes to our uninvited guests,” he said.
“That is our main task. We will not give up. “
The cities that horizontally stretch along the southeastern front of Ukraine are like touchstones that mark the course of Russia’s progress.
Polohy, about 25 miles east of Orikhiv, had already fallen to Russian forces.
To the northwest is Komyshuvakha, where Russian forces were in close proximity until about two weeks ago, when they were driven away by Ukrainian defenders.
On Tuesday, the biggest drama of the day was the escape of a black and white cow from Natalia Novitskaya’s yard.
But the damage of war is still there.
In front of Novitskaya’s house was a crater large enough to swallow a small car.
The bomb blast, which hit on March 16, blew windows and caused a concussion to one of his children, he said.
Locals also showed remnants of seemingly flaming weapons that rained down on their homes and farms in the early days of the fighting.
Despite the relatively calm now, officials and residents of Komyshuvakha are preparing for the return of the Russians.
On Tuesday, backhoes dug new trenches on the side of the road and soldiers stored food at the local market.
“We don’t know what’s in their heads, but we’re getting stronger,” said Yuriy Karapetyan, the mayor.
“We are preparing for the worst and we will fight until the end.”
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