The whistling shell left a gaping hole in the nearby building in Severodonetsk, a city besieged and trapped between the Russian and Ukrainian armies.

Some of the most courageous inhabitants stick their heads through the metal door of their entrance to see if they can calmly finish cooking their meal.

Only a few seconds of respite, however, before seeing another shell crashing more or less in the same place, with a deafening crash.

Before another, then another… Like the hands of a clock ticking, in Severodonetsk, an industrial city transformed for several days into a raging battlefield and engulfed under the fire of artillery.

“It’s been like that for four or five days,” says Tamara Nesterenko, a schoolteacher before the war, walking cautiously towards the makeshift kitchen set up with odds and ends.

The inhabitants of Severodonetsk have had no access to water, electricity or gas for several weeks.

In the stove, three pots were simmering gently with soup and potatoes for the 27 residents who have been living underground, in darkness, for several weeks.

“We don’t even know who is shooting or from where,” said a 55-year-old man in the group: “As if they were playing a game”.

– Prayers –

Outside, tanks rumble through the debris-strewn streets and target more or less anything that moves.

At the roadblocks, the men who patrol, on the teeth, regularly open fire on the cars which do not slow down.

The artillery shells that pass through the eastern districts of the city, plagued by the fiercest battles, often explode without warning because they are fired at close range.

Those fired at longer ranges emit a faint groan as they fly over this pre-war city of 100,000.

Nella Kachkina, 65, sits in the basement next to an oil lamp. She prays.

“I don’t know how long we can last,” said the former city employee, now retired.

“We have no more medicines and many sick people – especially women – who need treatment,” she laments.

– “Run and hide” –

The flames of the wood stove betray the only signs of life in this city, the epicenter of the Russian army’s assault on Ukraine.

Severodonetsk and the neighboring city of Lyssytchansk constitute the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the Lugansk region.

The Russians now surrounded the two, separated only by a river, and bombarded them relentlessly to exhaust Ukrainian resistance and prevent the arrival of reinforcements.

In Lyssytchansk, the Ukrainians still have a road, which goes in the direction of the south-west, to bring back humanitarian aid and food.

But Severodonetsk’s only link with Lyssytchansk and the territories held by kyiv is now a bridge, which neither side seems to want to destroy but whose surroundings are bombarded 24 hours a day.

This bridge allows residents of Lysychansk to send trucks carrying water, which residents of Severodonetsk can then collect at specific meeting points.

“You always have to wait a long time for water,” says Anna Podalyouk, a retired doctor: “Can you imagine waiting outside under the fire of bombs? You are constantly running and hiding.”

– “The whole city is suffering” –

In a cellar, Claudia Pouchnir cries silently, sitting on a piece of mattress that sadly reminds her of her youth.

This 88-year-old lady was sent to Lysytchansk as a student to help build a new city that wanted to be dynamic and had to highlight the power of the Soviet Union, at the end of the Second World War.

“It was like we were building something new. There was so much joy in the city, so many young people. We were given apartments to help build the city,” she recalls, a slight smile on her face. .

“Whereas now my children’s apartment is destroyed, like mine, and the whole city is suffering,” she continues.

In the light of a lamp, several silhouettes take shape in the four corners of the room, wrapped in blankets to keep warm.

Someone puts a hand around the grandmother’s shoulder, to comfort her, when another explosion resounds.

“We are here not knowing what will happen,” she said, sobbing. “But I will probably die here.”