Shell-Shocked, Ukrainian Town Rebuilds
Published: August 20, 2014 (Issue # 1825)
LYSYCHANSK, Ukraine (AP) — Weeks after Ukrainian government forces recaptured Lysychansk from the rebels, the residents of this shell-shocked town near the Russian border say they hope simply to rebuild their former lives — but fear that war could return to their doorstep.
Many homes and entire neighborhoods bear scars from the two-day fight for Lysychansk, a down-on-its-luck industrial town on the western bank of eastern Ukraine’s largest river. Three weeks after the fighting ended in a rebel defeat, residents still are waiting to regain access to essential utilities in their homes, if they still have any. Hundreds of houses and apartments were gutted, or blown to smithereens, by tank and mortar shells while their inhabitants cowered in reinforced basements.
“We still don’t have running water or gas. We only have electricity. How are people supposed to live?” said Alexander Tretyakov, 53, who emerged from his own basement shelter last month to discover that a tank shell had collapsed the entire top floor of his home.
Tretyakov said some neighbors fared worse. “They went into the basement in slippers alone and came out to see that nothing was left of their house,” he said.
Many in this predominantly Russian-speaking town of 105,000 are sympathetic to the rebels’ cause but have accepted the Ukrainian army’s victory as the better option because they don’t believe they could live peacefully under rebel rule.
Tretyakov said he expects the Ukrainian government to pay to fix his home, but fears rebels could recapture the town, rendering any repairs now pointless. He’s keeping his basement windows covered in three layers of bricks, backed by buckets of water, just in case his family finds itself on the front line again.
“We are not going to take these barricades down until this war ends. We don’t know whether it ever will,” he said.
For the time being, scenes of resurgent normality are playing out in Lysychansk alongside street rubble and high-rise residential battle zones. A children’s hospital on the edge of town lies in ruins. Everywhere, windows remain shattered or patched with plastic sheeting.
The ATMs have resumed dispensing Ukrainian hryvni, the national currency, and long lines of customers are forming for what may be their first access to cash in many weeks. Most shops in the town’s five shopping centers have reopened, but prices are punitively high and stocks limited. Many travel on foot with shopping bags, partly reflecting how the retreating rebels stole private cars for their escape toward the Russian border barely 80 kilometers away.
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