NOVOLUHANSKE, Ukraine (Reuters) – Zoya, a pensioner, cowered under the stairs in the early hours of Tuesday as fresh shelling shook her home near the frontline of the war in eastern Ukraine, just hours after Russia said it would recognise two breakaway regions as independent.
“Around 5 a.m. I was at home and went from the living room to the kitchen. When it impacted, everything shook, glass flew around… I hid under the stairs, it was horrible, just horrible,” said the 68-year-old.
Asked what she thought of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move, she shrugged: “I don’t expect anything good … I’m so fed up … For eight years now we don’t live, but just exist.”
Her town of Novoluhanske is located in Ukraine’s Donetsk region but just outside the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” which, along with the neighbouring “Luhansk People’s Republic”, has just been recognised by Russia as a state.
Ukrainian government forces recaptured the town from the Moscow-backed separatists in 2017 but the fighting that first erupted in 2014 has continued, taking a heavy toll on local people trapped in their homes with nowhere else to go.
Soldiers patrolling earthen trenches nearby fear the separatists, now fully backed up by Russian troops expected to arrive in the area very soon, will be emboldened to make renewed attempts to seize the town and surrounding areas.
“We are ready to stop an incursion by the Russian Federation, including the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s republics. I don’t know what the scale will be, it depends on how big the army will be,” said Oleksiy, a soldier.
Another soldier, Oleksandr Ryabov, expressed concern that the separatists would now try to seize those parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – including Novoluhanske – still controlled by Ukrainian government forces.
“This possibility worries me, it would then be contested territories, and Ukraine will have to defend those parts of the region by military means,” he said.
Another pensioner, Oleksiy, saw little hope of peace returning.
“I am very worried. From this situation, we cannot expect anything good to happen,” he said.
(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Alison Williams)