What they are sure of is that the kindergarten in this city very close to the Donbass front line was hit a few days earlier by a volley from Grad. And that an unexploded rocket is now planted outside the door of their shelter. Their fears oscillate between the possibility that their only access to the outside world could suddenly be blocked by debris, and that Russian forces suddenly land without warning in their shelter.
“The Russians on the radio just said they took Bakhmout. Is that true?” asks Natalia Georgievna with anguish, referring to a locality located about fifty kilometers to the south-west, still under Ukrainian control.
“We really don’t know anything,” whispers her neighbor, Viktoria Viktorovna, sitting on a cot in a corner, out of sight of the single ray of light that illuminates one end of the cellar. “I believe the Ukrainians are still here, right?”
– Conflicting bulletins
Nearly three months of war have transformed Lyssytchansk, a mining town of some 100,000 mainly Russian-speaking inhabitants, into an abandoned area with no water, electricity or telephone network.
Most of the inhabitants who remained emerge from the shelters during respites from the bombardments, in the afternoon, to go straight to the small source of water in the north of the city. They fill bottles of water there which must then be boiled before drinking.
Some women in the cellar of the kindergarten – who give their patronymic name and not their family name for fear of reprisals – say they have not been out in the open air for two months.
The contradictory news bulletins – depending on whether they are Russian or Ukrainian – emitted by the small radio station only fuel their feeling of isolation and their fear, which sometimes borders on paranoia.
The Kremlin has been broadcasting its news vision throughout eastern Ukraine since 2014, when pro-Russian separatist forces backed by Moscow seized control of part of Donbass.
“The Russians say they are winning and the Ukrainians too,” said Natalia Georgievna. “When we still had the internet, we could watch the news, but now…we have no idea who is behind these voices or where they are coming from.”
Locals believe the volley of Grads who fell on the kindergarten earlier this week was destined for a school across the yard, where Ukrainian soldiers were stationed.
The presence of the military in civilian buildings is one of the controversial topics fueling the information war: among the inhabitants, some are furious with the Ukrainian military, but others point out that they have no choice in the face of Russian forces attacking their cities.
– “We no longer know which side they are on” –
Lyssychansk is very close to the front line. The Russians are approaching, from three directions, Severodonetsk, a town separated from Lyssytchansk only by the Siverskyi Donets river. The Ukrainians put all their forces into battle to prevent the Russian forces from crossing it.
Witness to the anxieties of the inhabitants, Oleg Zaïtsev, a 53-year-old minor, is as worried about the identity of the armed men who are driving through the deserted streets as he is about the bombardments.
“I’m especially afraid that a stranger will stop me and ask me for my papers. We don’t know which side they are on anymore,” he said before returning to his shelter. “It could be Russians, and who knows what would happen.”
In the cellar of the kindergarten, Evguen Poltchikha fears him especially the explosion of the rocket remained planted in the ground in front of the door of the shelter.
“She’s staying there. Our kindergarten seems solid enough. But you never know,” he says.