This double-image illustrates the life of Kharkiv, which tries to resume a normal daily life. The regional capital was one of the Ukrainian cities most affected by the war, suffering a several-day assault and fighting in its suburbs in late February and early March, then coming under regular shelling.
The noose around the city has loosened for a few days, but the war continues. Significant damage was inflicted on all infrastructure, and many residents have yet to return.
“We are trying to keep the city alive,” a spokeswoman for the town hall told AFP, commenting on the resumption of certain public bus lines on Monday. The peacetime city of 1.5 million “is huge, and some can’t get around or go to work without a bus”.
According to this spokesperson, the mayor refrains for the moment from calling for the return of the inhabitants, as well as from prohibiting it. “The realities are different depending on the neighborhood,” she says. At the Kharkiv station many people, who had fled in February, are however returning.
However, some areas have been hard hit. At 40 Boutchmy Street, in the Saltivka district (north-east), the large residential blocks suffered, especially in the very first days of the war, from the shelling of Russian troops from Belgorod, a Russian town located nearby. from the border, which is only a few tens of kilometers away.
– “State of shock” –
A 49-year-old cashier, Iana talks with her husband on the 5th floor of her building. The apartment overlooks the void, the facade has completely fallen. Her husband gained access to the apartment by going through the roof and then letting himself down by a rope.
“To be honest, my husband was in shock when he saw this. It was horrible (…) The rescuers told us that it would no longer be possible to live here, the walls and floors are shaking. The building is going to be destroyed. We asked social services for relocation,” she says.
“I don’t want to leave Kharkiv, I was born and raised here. My parents had this apartment in 1975, more than 40 years ago… Obviously, we won’t be able to pass it on to our children. We have to overcome this ordeal and continue to live. What else can we do?”
In the same bar, Olexandre Vendland, 45-year-old widower, mover, visits his devastated apartment, in particular the bedroom of his two daughters, aged eight and 14: a pink bag, a large stuffed animal, small drawings, that’s all emerging from the rubble.
He sent his daughters to Germany, to their uncle: “It’s impossible for children to live here. They need food, education. There is nothing here. Volunteers help us with food. water and food so that we can survive,” he said.
– “Symbol of Kharkiv” –
“I don’t know if the government is helping us. I only see volunteers. Who said things are better? People need to work,” adds the man, bitter, stressing that “people are scared” due to sporadic gunfire continuing to hit the area.
In the neighborhood, water escapes from some pipes affected by the bombardments, creating small floods while the electricity, gas and water services are on the job seven days a week.
“In times of war, there are no vacations,” says Serguiï Olechko, from the electricity service, working on lines that have fallen to the ground. “We are not soldiers but we are here! We are a little scared with the shelling that continues”.
In the city center, architects and experts, war helmets on their heads and dressed in bulletproof vests, are already roaming the emblematic headquarters of the regional administration, plans and hammers in hand.
Located on Place de la Liberté, the central square of the city, the monumental building from the 1950s was hit by a missile on March 1. The video of the overpowered strike had gone around the world. The interior is in pieces.
“We had been evacuated before, thank God”, recalls Konstantin Issaïev, 46, management controller who came to visit his former office. “We have already resumed work elsewhere but I hope to be able to work here again quickly”.
This will not be the case, even if workers have started to evacuate the rubble. “For the moment, we are making assessments”, explains Anatoliï Boutenko: “There is a lot of damage, we will not be able to do it in the year. It will take two years at least but it must be done (…) It is the symbol of Kharkiv.”
In the early evening, before the curfew, a concert was organized in a cultural center. The first in months. We drink, we talk, we dance. “We want to dance every day,” says Ievgen, guitarist for the ska band Zhadan i Sobaky, a city institution. “We want to return to slows, not to war”.