Wearing a red peasant scarf on her head, Galyna is one of 80 people who have been sleeping for several days in kindergarten number 420 in Osnoviansky district, a preserved neighborhood south of Karkhiv, the country’s second city.

Thousands of evacuees from villages and neighborhoods plagued by fighting or shelling cannons are currently taking refuge in the regional capital, waiting to be able to return home.

“I don’t want to remember what happened. There was constant shelling. Everything is destroyed, the neighbours’ house is destroyed. Mine, I don’t know. It was up when we left… Tears come to my eyes, I’m going to cry,” breathes Olena Roultseva, 60, also from Rouska Lozova.

The cashier wipes away a few tears as she tells her story: “We were occupied (by the Russians) for two months and on the evening of April 28, there was the attack. We were evacuated by bus on the 29th. would like to go back but at the moment there is artillery, it is better to stay here. I do not think that the return will be soon”.

Born in the village, she had returned there to live with her 82-year-old mother Vera Primitch, who also attended kindergarten.

The school setting is almost bucolic in this large suburban complex. Surrounded by housing blocks, the school seems like a haven of peace with its large garden, playgrounds and green spaces where some garden.

– “Our souls in our homes” –

“It’s good and it’s quiet here. We talk, we walk, we go to stores that are open. We do some sewing,” says Olena, admitting “not to follow the information so as not to relive the bad memories”.

“We get to know each other,” smiles Natalia Nichatova, a 50-year-old bakery worker who has become friends with Olena.

Natalia lived in Saltivska, a northern district of Kharkiv among the most affected by the artillery fire which reached the city.

During the Russian attack on February 24, she took refuge in a cellar of her building with her neighbors. “The shells hit the building, the roof, the water system. We were flooded. I spent a lot of time in the cellar. We ate on the same plate with the neighbors,” she sighs.

She stayed fifteen days underground before finding refuge with a friend and then arriving at kindergarten at the end of April. Still traumatized, she says she took three days “to evacuate the stress, sleeping with one eye open and unable to relax”.

“It’s comfortable here, the beds, the food every day, the medical care… But we left our souls at home. I call my neighbors every day. I’m worried about them. I would love to go back,” she said.

“We are proud to be able to welcome them and to do our duty”, assures the deputy director of the establishment Viktoria Gorynimova. “The men are at the front, the doctors in the hospitals, I am doing what I can to help”.

The director says she hopes that the 12 classes of 244 students will again welcome “children at the start of the school year in September”, while presenting special boarders who live in an appendage of the school: rabbits from Rouska Lozova belonging to Galyna.

“We had three rabbits, when we fled, we were able to take the rabbit who was pregnant and her husband in a bag. She has since given birth!”