As Ukraine's counter-offensive gathers steam, the city of Kharkiv is targeted by Putin's forces. Here's a view from up close, during heavy shelling that has sparked power and water outrages, even as the liberation of territory sets off scenes of joy and elation.
KHARKIV — For several years, a woman has been sitting on the corner of my street selling flowers almost every day. On Sep. 9, our neighborhood was shelled for the first time – and have no doubt that an hour and a half after the missile hit our street, she was sitting right there in her usual place. People were cleaning up broken glass and cutting tree branches 50 meters from her. Some came to buy flowers.
In some way, this is all you need to know about life right now in Kharkiv.
We are hostages of geography: the time it takes for the missile to reach Kharkiv from Belgorod, Russia, as air defense officers tell us, is 43 seconds. None of our existing defense systems are able to prevent their arrival in our neighborhood.
It was obvious that Russia would take revenge on the city of Kharkiv for the counteroffensive across the region. Just as it has been taking revenge for many months for the failure to establish a “people's republic” here in the spring of 2014.
Every day we sort out the rubble, remove the glass of broken windows and – buy asters, buy late-season strawberries, walk in parks. Life has a way of always seeking to defend itself, those little habits of which it consists.
Time for new habits
On the same September day, in the St. John Theologian Church, Father Victor Marynchak was marrying a young couple: she is a civilian, he is a military man who took a few hours off. The shelling hit right in the middle of the ceremony. Heavy carpets took the brunt of broken glass. The half-ton locked door swung open and closed again.
If this was a television series, it would be called too far-fetched.
The daughter of the Orthodox priest, a poet named Natalka Marynchak, says that the soldier looked out the window, looked at his watch and said: “Well, let's continue, because I have to go back to the war in an hour.”
Natalka looked at her father, who was hit by a fragment without a cut, and went to sweep the glass. The strike was ten meters from the porch. This is another scene that, if seen in a television series, would be called too far-fetched – there are many of them these days.
I’m listening to Natalka near our favorite coffee shop. The next minute, we are rushing into the basement – this hit was somewhere quite close. In a few minutes, Natalka is going to pick up her father from the university (Father Victor is a professor of linguistics). I’m sitting down to work — and for the second time in a day, the electricity was cut off in the region.
Well, I guess it’s time for new habits – in addition to the ones we’ve already had since February 24.
Needless to say, we have been in intense euphoria for several days. Needless to say, that for us as for residents of Sloboda Ukraine (*the historical region in Ukraine), all the names of the localities liberated that appear in the news every few hours have a special meaning. So, my friend’s mother lives near Kupyansk, I go to Kremenets to cry and rejoice, we made a festival in Izium, my volunteering began from Hoptivka, and in Velykyi Burluk there lives a forecaster-better-than-Arestovych - the baibak Tymko.
But the euphoria is accompanied by air-raid alarms. Already after the massive shelling of the center in broad daylight (around 2 p.m.) last Friday, it was clear that the Russians would actively take revenge - but how exactly?
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise visit to Izium, in the Kharkiv region.
Living in the dark
At 8:01 p.m., on the third day of the intoxicating delight of our counteroffensive, the entire region was suddenly blacked out. Information spread through telegram channels that five more regions were also affected: Donetsk, partly Zaporizhia, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, and Poltava. As it turned out later, also a part of Belgorod and Voronezh in Russia.
When the lights went out, my first thought was: Yes, there are diesel generators in hospitals, I know this for sure. The National Health Service of Ukraine added generators to the list of requirements for contracted medical facilities on April 1, 2021, during COVID, along with oxygen lines. At that time, many hospitals were outraged, complaining about the additional costs. Well, now they have been justified.
Communications resume (partially)
The municipal services of the region worked wonders: I had electricity at 2 a.m., so I managed to take another hour's nap after sleeping through the midnight bombardment of the neighboring area. Through my sleep, I thought about the freezer: “I won’t forgive them my frozen strawberries.”
In fact, the integrity of the stocks in the freezer for a person deprived of a permanent income (and there are way too many of us like this here) is very important.
“Krasnograd! Lozova! Sakhnovshchyna! Babai!” – the roll call of districts with electricity looked as if an inspired geography teacher gave the class a new task – after yesterday's euphoric "IZIU-U-U-UM!" People, Vovchansk!!! Kozacha Lopan!!! Vanya, they are going to Burluk!!!"
People who were in the subway during the blackout trudged through the tunnels on foot. The evening trolleybuses stopped. Trains were delayed.
Some people started to receive SMS messages from unknown numbers: “Hi, do you have electricity?”. Law enforcement officers ask people not to respond to such messages from strangers, as these may be provocations, or scams.
As of 9 a.m., electricity and water supply in Kharkiv and the region was restored to 80%.
Ukrainian soldiers attend the flag raising ceremony in Izium.
On Monday, around 1 a.m., Kharkiv was again heavily shelled. The geography of air strikes is wide: In general, shelling in recent weeks resembles Russian roulette, and we are even joking that we are ready to move from the center to the countryside.
The Internet was also gone, making it impossible to work; mobile communications lagged. The electric transport was not working, the ambulances were rushing with a siren — for the first time since the spring I had such an acute and disturbing feeling of war. In some areas, along with electricity, the water supply was cut off.
What am I thinking about as I write these lines?
I didn't dare to walk around the city: In recent weeks, fear has suddenly replaced the spring-summer frenzy of trips to different districts, and sometimes this fear blocks me. Friends who walked along the central streets say that people were sitting in the cafe, but shops and pharmacies were closed, cash registers did not work.
Power was restored in most areas within a few hours. In some places, however, there is still no electricity or water.
What am I thinking about as I write these lines, on the eve of the night that might also be full of “surprises”? To be honest, I am thinking about the ambulances: the one we bought that is now rushing back and forth to Kurakhove, and the one we still need to buy for a brigade in the Kherson region.
By God, we will tolerate blackouts, and much more, just to get our towns and villages back. Let there be as little bloodshed as possible.
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