But Artem Ivassenko, a miner by profession, was nearly killed trying to get food and medicine for his father and for the people who had taken refuge with him in the basement of their building. This even though the road, which leads to slightly less bombed localities, was still technically under Ukrainian control.
But this causeway – in the heart of the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the Lugansk region, one of the two regions of Donbass which the Russians want to take full control – is now in the angle of fire from Russian tanks. And was transformed, after three months of war, into a smoking battlefield.
Artem Ivassenko, 34, didn’t know when he left his shelter, because Lysychansk and the neighboring city of Severodonetsk have been without electricity and any possibility of communication with the outside world for weeks.
“I only know what I see,” he says, under the dim light of a light bulb in his basement, powered by a generator. “And what I saw were shells exploding 10-15 meters from my truck the last time I took this road,” he said, while comforting his ailing father, lying in a corner on a cot.
A few elderly women, smiling, bring a soup they have prepared on a brazier in the courtyard, strewn with shrapnel.
Despite his concern, Artem Ivassenko is nevertheless preparing to attempt once again to take this route, regardless of the forces that now control it.
“If it’s the Russians, I’ll tell them I’m looking for help for people who are dying,” he says. “Anyone should understand that this is a legitimate reason and let me pass. And if they kill me, they kill me.”
– “So depressed that they are no longer afraid” –
The encirclement of Lyssychansk and Severodonetsk is currently a key objective of the Russian forces in Donbass. With the last road out of Lysytchansk turned into a battlefield, they were about to block access to both towns, which would allow them to continue their offensive further west.
For these two cities, the only remaining link with the rest of Ukraine is a dusty country road, which even tanks or military trucks equipped with giant tires struggle to take.
Oleksandr Kozyr is very worried about this small road.
He, who manages the main distribution center for humanitarian aid in Lyssytchansk, deals daily with anxious and hungry people, who live on their last reserves.
“People are ready to take any risk for water and food, said the 33-year-old man, his voice tired. “They are so depressed that they are no longer afraid. All they want is to find something to eat.”
– “Much more difficult” –
After helping a woman worried about her sick mother, Oleksandr Kozyr recounts a scene that bears witness to the despair he faces.
“Firefighters were distributing water when shelling started. They ran for cover, but the people who were waiting for water didn’t care… People ran after them under the shelling, they needed water so badly,” he said.
Its distribution center, reinforced with sandbags, was partly destroyed by a mortar attack this week. The stairs lead to a cellar where dozens of families have been living for almost three months, living on the floor, in the dark.
With the last main road now impassable, they may spend weeks more there, as food distributions become increasingly unpredictable. “Things have become much more difficult in recent days,” says Oleksandr Kozyr.
– “Stay and wait” –
Before the war, the agglomeration formed by Lyssytchansk and Severodonetsk had some 200,000 inhabitants. People who distribute food estimate that there are still at least 20,000 in the cellars of Lysytchansk. But no one really ventures to guess how much they might still be in the deluge of fire in Severodonetsk.
Evguenia Mykhno, retired, and her husband have just left Severodonetsk, thanks to a volunteer who took advantage of a brief respite in the fighting to evacuate the first people he met in the street.
The couple found themselves in a square in Lysytchansk, without any business or idea of the progress of the war.
“I don’t really see what we can do if the main road has been cut off,” said Evguenia Mykhno, 67. “We can’t turn back and we can’t get out”.
“We can stay here and wait,” her husband Oleksandr said with a hint of humor. “That, we know how to do”.