In Bakhmut, a hot spot on the front, Ukrainians are indifferent to the Russian ceasefire

Posted on Friday, January 06, 2023 at 5:38 pm.

As they do every day, the remaining residents of Bakhmut, the epicenter of fighting in eastern Ukraine, flocked to a humanitarian aid distribution center on Friday, desperate for food and internet access.

And as every day, despite President Vladimir Putin unilaterally declaring a cease-fire from midday on the occasion of the Orthodox Christmas holiday, artillery fire continued on all sides of the front.

Sipping tea and eating noodles around a wood-burning stove, Bakhmut’s mostly elderly residents say they are not surprised that fighting continues around the ruined city after months of bombardment, among the worst of the war since it began in February.

“There have already been many sensational statements from the Russians, but they have never kept their promises,” said Tetiana Chcherbak, 51, a volunteer at a humanitarian aid center.

“I want to appeal to all Russian mothers: Don’t you need your husbands? Don’t you need your sons? Take them away from us!”, this woman declares.

AFP journalists heard artillery duels for more than an hour after the Russian ceasefire theoretically took effect on Friday, although their intensity was less than in previous days.

The streets of Bachmut were mostly empty except for military vehicles.

Private Volodymyr Morozov says he was not even aware of Vladimir Putin’s call for a ceasefire, which coincided with the Orthodox Christmas holiday on Saturday.

This soldier says: “I didn’t watch the news before, and I don’t watch it now. The only news that interests me is the news that interests my comrades.”

– “I stay in my city” –

In the battle for Bakhmut, which has been going on since the summer, both Russian and Ukrainian forces have suffered heavy losses. Most of the 70,000 pre-war residents left behind buildings reduced to rubble and twisted pieces of metal.

But some remained. It’s a source of frustration for Pavlo Diatchenko, a police officer who spent Friday handing out leaflets encouraging people to seek asylum in Chernivtsi, western Ukraine.

“Hardly anyone wants to go there,” he cries, except for a woman with a daughter, three children and a dog who left a few days ago.

He hopes that if temperatures drop further, others will make that choice.

Volodymyr, a 49-year-old municipal worker who came to the aid center with his 14-year-old daughter, says that he has no intention of leaving Bakhmut, whether there is a reconciliation or not.

“If there is a ceasefire, then there will be 36 hours of calm. Nothing more,” he said. “I can’t leave the city – I love it… I stay with my city”.

– “Human warmth” –

The humanitarian aid center offers the residents of Bakhmout a rare escape from the basements where they spend their days.

“They come here to socialize and communicate, to relax from constant stress,” says volunteer Denis Muratchov.

On Friday, the center hosted an impromptu Christmas Eve party with snacks and treats. In one corner, a Christmas tree dressed in garlands and lights.

Volunteer Tetiana Chcherbak regrets not being able to serve home-made vodka as in peacetime. Nevertheless, “we give human warmth to people as much as we can”.

Gathered around a table with dozens of Bakhmout residents, he begins to cheer for Christmas despite the artillery fire echoing outside.

Behind him, a silent television is showing footage of the battle.

“As you know, Christmas is a time of salvation. We wish you salvation,” he shouts.

“We did our best,” he adds, pointing to a table piled with mandarins, apples and cookies.

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