In eastern Ukraine, New York under fire from Russian fire

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    “Here’s one,” the boy calmly points out, a few seconds before the explosion of a building, not far from there, sounds.

    His mother, exhausted, does not even bother to bend down. After nearly three months of war between Ukraine and Russia, Valéria Kolakévytch has heard so many artillery shots that she instinctively knows which ones will land nearby and which ones will strike a little further away.

    Last night, gunfire targeted his neighborhood, including four houses neighboring his. “It was terrible,” she says.

    “And the most terrible thing is that there is nothing here, just civilians,” adds the 28-year-old woman, while another shot falls on their sloping street.

    This time, her 11-year-old daughter moaned softly and covered her ears. His little brother cowers. Their mother grabs their hand and walks away.

    The shooting continues, fired from fields that until recently marked the dividing line between territories seized by pro-Russian separatist forces in 2014 and those that remained under Ukrainian control.

    – “Worse and worse” –

    The invasion of Ukraine launched on February 24 by Russian President Vladimir Putin blew on the embers of the conflict between kyiv and the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass, supported by Moscow, which has claimed 14,000 lives in eight years.

    And after their failed assault in the kyiv region, and their recent disengagement from Kharkiv, the Russian troops are concentrating their offensive on this part of the Donbass, up to the coastal zone between Mariupol and the Crimean peninsula.

    Baptized Novgorodské in 1951 by the Soviet authorities, the small town of 10,000 inhabitants – mainly populated by Russian speakers – decided in the summer of 2021 to resume the name given to it at the beginning of the 19th century by its German founders, after five years struggle of local activists.

    For the past month, it has been under heavy artillery fire, which is intensifying every day, according to its residents.

    “It’s getting worse and worse. Before, it was a little tight, but it didn’t really bother us,” says Valentyna Kanébalotskaïa, a 71-year-old seamstress, while gathering her things to move to her daughter, in a part one safer bit of town.

    “Now they are shooting from the west, east and south.”

    – Abandoned –

    The Ukrainian army is concentrating its troops in the more strategic neighboring towns of Severodonetsk and Lyssychansk, northeast of the front line.

    Faced with the offensive of the Russian troops, New York finds itself abandoned. In front of an abandoned military base, where sandbags pile up, a headless mannequin watches over one of the main streets of the city.

    A few lonely soldiers roam the central square, bombarded several times last week.

    “See that crater? A Russian plane did that,” said one, who says his name is Oleksandr, pointing to a huge hole in the dirt road.

    In the background, the industrial district of the city fades, with a factory and several other buildings destroyed by the bombs.

    – Chemical danger –

    The Russians could hit a nearby factory that houses phenol, a chemical used in the paint and plastics industry, Oleksandr fears.

    “It’s very worrying. Just one shot and it would turn into a chemical weapon,” said the 36-year-old soldier. “If it spills on the ground, the consequences will be tragic.”

    Both Moscow and kyiv regularly accuse each other of plotting chemical attacks, accusations that seem at least in part to dismiss any responsibility in case a shot accidentally hits a hazardous materials site.

    New Yorkers are more concerned about the lack of running water and gas. And some point the finger at the Ukrainian army.

    “The Ukrainians come here to shoot from the hills and then they leave. Then we all get bombed,” accuses Yelena Valerianova.

    Like other Russian speakers, she prefers to give AFP journalists her surname rather than her surname, for fear of reprisals from local Ukrainian officials.

    The separatists of the self-proclaimed pro-Russian republic of Donetsk (DNR) “treat us better”, she sighs.