On the one hand, cattle, settled on a mound a few minutes’ drive from the front line, provide this 40-year-old woman with a stable income and milk. On the other hand, this means that Oksana cannot leave his land to flee the fighting without losing his entire herd.
Trails of missiles in the sky are a reminder that the Russians are closing in on almost all sides of the town of Bakhmout, some 55 kilometers southeast of Kramatorsk, the major regional city.
The presence of Oksana and her sister, after three months of conflict, shows the ferocity of the Ukrainian resistance and the unwavering confidence of the Ukrainians in the capacity of their army to win the war.
“When a bomb explodes not far away, I’m very scared,” admits Oksana, however, who observes out of the corner of her eye her daughter playing with the tail of a cow.
“What do you want me to do? For every cow, it’s hours of work. We just can’t just drop everything, hand it over to someone and move on,” she continues. .
– Shaved houses –
The perseverance of the two sisters is however strewn with pitfalls.
Bakhmout, 77,000 inhabitants before the war, is close enough to the front line for Western humanitarian organizations to set up there.
But its position, deep in a valley, also makes it very difficult to defend against enemy attacks.
The Russians are very close today, on a road leading to the eastern outskirts of the city.
In the village of Pylyptchatyne, dozens of wooden houses hidden behind palisades along a peaceful river have been razed.
In one of them, not completely destroyed, you can see the remains of a meal on a table, no doubt the sign of a hasty departure.
A dog wanders around, visibly searching for its owner as pieces of chicken are smashed all over what remains of a broken blue wall.
– “I do not worry” –
In the blue sky above Pylyptchatyne, white streaks indicate the missile fire exchanged by Russian and Ukrainian forces on either side of the city.
Sitting at a bus stop, a soldier, Viatcheslav, watches this aerial ping-pong, next to an old lady.
Neither of them seem particularly shaken by the destruction of this abandoned village.
“We know the Russians are trying to surround us. But believe me, we are ready,” said Vyacheslav, 49.
“Do you really think that all the soldiers here intend to be taken prisoner?” Asks the soldier aloud.
Next door, the old lady approves of her neighbor’s words and tenderly puts her hand on the soldier’s shoulder.
“I’m not worried”, assures Valentina Litvinova: “The Russians will never come this far”.
– “Cows ignore war” –
Roads leading north to Bakhmout are cut off. Along the way is Natalia Pouzanova’s Soviet-style hardware store.
This 58-year-old woman would probably have joined her employees who left the village of Pokrovské, if the Ukrainian soldiers had not come to stock up on socks and soap.
“They still have to wash and do their laundry,” she explains. “It still allows me to continue working.”
On the roads, one hears only the humming sound of trucks pulling huge tanks behind them.
This one-way traffic of reinforcements indicates that the Ukrainian army is still not ready to abandon the beleaguered cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, the scene of some of the fiercest battles of the entire war.
In this setting, Lioudmila says that even his cows are getting used to life on the front line.
“They don’t run away,” she smiles. “It’s been going on around us for a month, but the cows have started to ignore the war”.