Life in a town on the Ukrainian front: mines, cucumbers and coffee with sweets to make soldiers “feel at home for a while”

Life in a town on the Ukrainian front: mines, cucumbers and coffee with sweets to make soldiers "feel at home for a while"

“Then they send us to attack the Russians. As weapons, we had only Kalashnikovs, nothing else. I called my commander and asked him to cover us with artillery fire. -We didn’t nothing-, he said to me.-And what do we do?- . -Threaten them to scare them-“.

Vova, a 29-year-old soldier, tells me over coffee in the courtyard of Valentyn and Tetiana, local volunteers, to explain to me that the phrase “threaten them” had become an inside joke. Although everyone around the table had heard this story a million times before, they burst out laughing.

The doors of this house, located in a town sixty kilometers from the front, are literally open all day. The flow of soldiers, neighbors and other volunteers does not stop. They offer them all coffee and sweets, to make the soldiers “feel at home for a while”. The living room has become a huge warehouse with medicines, clothes, boxes with vegetables…

Valentyn and Tetiana, both 27, have a dental business and have spent most of their lives in the village.. When they were children, Valentyn changed schools and ended up sitting at a table with Tetiana. They realized that “they don’t need anyone else to be happy” and have been together ever since. Two years ago, Valentyn proposed to her in Paris. They live in the house of Tetiana’s parents, but for five years they have been working and saving to have their own apartment. They say they do not want to ask for financial assistance so that the parents can one day enjoy their retirement. Before the start of the war, they completed the reformation and planned to have children. Now his apartment is for sale and every aspect of his life has been adapted “for wartime”.

Valentin, a volunteer, in her dental clinic.
A military doctor treating a soldier in the dental clinic located in Tetiana’s parents’ house.
Olha Kosovo

The latest attacks in Kremenchuk and Odessa have provoked a wave of reactions on Ukrainian social networks. However, war in most cities has become “a new normal”. Life in Kyiv, Dnipro or even Zaporizhia is not very different from life in any other European city: people take advantage of the summer to drink their coffee on the terraces and only sirens, to which almost no one pays attention, from time to time remind of an ever-present danger. In his last speech, President Zelensky acknowledged that in most cities there is a “slackening” and reminded his compatriots that “the war is not over yet” and “its cruelty in some places only ‘rise, so we can’t forget this.’

Tetiana says there was a time when they thought about moving to a safer city. “We went to Dnipro but I lasted two days. I don’t understand how people can be so calm. I was so worried for those who stayed here… In the end, we came back and lost the bail, but I don’t care,” says Tetiana.

In the towns and villages located a few hours drive east of Zaporizhia or Dnipro, one can observe a stark contrast. Here, war is present in every aspect of the daily routine. Roads destroyed; the queue of soldiers buying cigarettes in local shops; restaurants preparing food for the battalions; locals smearing meat to put in tactical backpacks; the colorful “military pixel” cars in the streets… Tetiana doesn’t dare drive her car, because not all soldiers “respect the rules of the road”.

“I’m Territorial Defense. I can take you to the zero line,” a plainclothes man on the street told me, smelling of alcohol. He tells me, “in confidence”, that he changed his clothes to buy the alcohol. In every supermarket and store in town there is a sign that prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages to people in uniform. Most soldiers play by the rules and say they “feel grateful” for the support they receive, but not all “keep it on the front line”.


An intervention of 'Standing in the bunker'

Valentyn and Tetiana admit that they had no intention of becoming volunteers. One day, Valentyn was driving and, in the center of her town, she saw a soldier asking for help to buy water for his unit. Valentyn bought him some drums and that’s how it all started. He promised himself that when the war was over he would rebuild a destroyed house in Hullyipole for a family.

in his summer house Tetiana has a small dental practice which serves as a clinic for soldiers. Even the books in the library are about war. How Ukraine lost the Donbass (the Donetsk region), The country of Makhno... “I want to understand everything that’s going on. I’m looking for answers,” Tetiana tells me when she notices my interest.

Tetiana
Tetiana, whose vital plans are now submitted during the war.
Olha Kosovo

“They sent us to investigate what is happening, we belong to the investigation group. Then our commander gave the order to open fire on the site where he had sent us before. When they told him we were there, he replied that he completely forgot“, comments another military guest in the patio of Tetiana.

Yesterday they bombed the house. So we leave for Odessa to join the army.. My wife’s sister lives there and they will welcome us,” says Volodymyr, a local volunteer. Volodymyr asked Tetiana for advice on buying perfumes for his wife, who is already an anesthetist and should be a graduate. “They don’t have any money, but they want to throw a little party, give her some joy,” Tetiana says as she cuts roses from her garden for Volodymyr’s wife.

“It’s not that there are a lot of options… The hospital in your town has no windows. Where are you going to work? Volodymyr in 2014 had to flee Donetsk and joined the army. He built a new house… For the past few months, he has been helping as a volunteer,” says Tetiana. She tries to hold back her tears so as not to worry her parents. He feels very sorry for the soldiers and people escaping from the bombed cities.

In the afternoon, the whole family sits at the table, listens to the sound of artillery, talks about war, politics… Lyudmyla and Mykola, Tetiana’s parents, are 56 years old and say they have grown cucumbers . They get up at 5:30 in the morning to start their work day. They now provide work for refugees from towns and cities affected by the war. Next to the claws, the soldiers train, practice their marksmanship; in the fields there are signs saying “Mines”.

“But the interior of the greenhouses is pleasant. It’s so peaceful! As if we haven’t been at war for months,” says Lyudmyla.

Tight
Lyudmyla working in the greenhouse.
Olha Kosovo

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