IZIUM, Ukraine — Rainwater is for showers and washing up. Reclaimed wood is for cooking fires. But almost nothing protects against the autumn cold in houses without windows.
Russian forces controlled Izium for six months before being forced to retreat two weeks ago during a Ukrainian counteroffensive. On one of the last days of the battle, a grad rocket exploded in Margaryta Tkachenko’s yard. His carcass is still there, something new to his children and a reminder of the terrible six months the family endured.
The house was damaged beyond recognition months ago.
“I remember planes flying, mines whistling, tapes (rockets) exploding,” said his son Mykyta, the eldest of three children.
“We came out of the basement and the house was gone,” Tkachenko said. She kept the kids in the basement and did her best to clean up the mess above.
“The children hadn’t washed for several days,” she said. “We hadn’t eaten for several days. The little one ate a spoonful of honey and the boy ate a spoonful of rice. I didn’t eat anything for two days.
Its roof is a charred shell, and the upstairs windows that overlook the Sievierodonetsk River are open to the weather. She and her three children – aged 9 months, 7 and 10 years – now live in a dark corner on the ground floor, sleeping together on a mattress that takes up the entire room and looking for what they need once the sun comes out. lying.
The city has had no gas, electricity, running water or internet since March. No one has been able to predict when that might change, but regional officials have urged residents who left at the start of the war not to return. Too difficult and – with countless mines scattered around – too dangerous.
But Tkachenko was among the thousands waiting for the Russians.
As dusk set in on Sunday, she hoisted the baby onto her hip, told her daughter to fetch drinking water and, with her idle hand, crumpled some paper, neatly piled kindling , lit the fire and placed the kettle on the grill. The smell of wood smoke fills the air. Her eldest daughter slowly turned a thin stick into embers, removing the tip every few seconds to watch it burn in the growing darkness.
The warmed water went into a bottle with formula, then it was time to milk the goat.
The small vegetable garden has a handful of cherry tomatoes on the vine, but the family relies mainly on humanitarian aid to get by. At night, after the fire was out, her 10-year-old deftly pulled out a finger of cotton padding, twisted it, and poured sunflower oil over it to soak in a plate. With a few wicks already in place from other nights, the makeshift oil lamp was almost bright enough to read.
Tkachenko does not know when his two eldest will be able to resume their studies. Many schools in Izium were used as bases by the Russians and all suffered damage. At least three were completely destroyed by Ukrainian missiles as they attempted to retake the city.
“I can’t predict what will happen next. Winter is the scariest. We have no wood. How are we going to heat? asked Tkachenko. She had no answers.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine