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Bashtanka (Ukraine) (AFP) – Vitaly’s small orange car – ‘CHILDREN’ written in Russian on signs taped to windows and windshield – broke down outside the devastated town of Bashtanka in southern Ukraine war.
The city had been torn apart in the month of fierce fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine.
kyiv forces were still in control there, but for Vitali and his family the fighting was still too close to be comfortable. They were therefore heading north, he told AFP.
Vitaly, his wife, two children and mother-in-law had fled the Russian-held town of Snihurivka about 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of Mykolaiv, a key coastal town for Russian forces.
The shelling there was incessant, he said. “At first it was on the periphery and now in the center.”
“There has been no water or electricity for 10 days,” he said. “People there started looting.
“The most important thing now is to survive. We left everything behind.”
Despite the icy wind blowing over the plain, he was dressed in a baseball cap and flip-flops, testimony to their hasty departure.
Before their car let go outside Bashtanka, they were heading for Zhytomyr, a city in the center of the country and west of the capital where they have family.
Eventually, they found a way out of the combat zone, leaving the burnt-out car wrecks behind.
Before the war, Bashtanka had a population of around 12,000 people. In Soviet times it was known as a regional tractor depot.
From now on, the city emptied of civilians, it is populated mainly by Ukrainian soldiers.
In the center, a mural depicting a smiling cosmonaut still adorns the blackened facade of a building damaged by bombing. He escaped the explosion which destroyed part of the pharmacy on the ground floor and the roof of the building.
But Sergei, a 43-year-old resident who told AFP he took part in the fighting there, remained defiant. “We gave these fascists the lesson they deserved,” he said.
For a few days earlier this month, Russian troops took partial control of the town before Ukrainian troops pushed them back, officials and residents said.
“They took villages around Bashtanka and looted them,” said Natasha Gasilina, a middle-aged woman in a thick burgundy coat.
In one village, Russian soldiers found photos of members of Ukrainian forces fighting pro-Kremlin separatists in the east of the country since 2014, she told AFP.
“They looked for them to kill them,” she said, but to no avail.
War came to Bashtanka on March 13, when the town was awakened by Russian bombs – dropped by parachute, locals say – that left large craters and rocked nearby homes.
Only one injured was reported: a man who came out alive from the rubble.
“There were Ukrainian military vehicles there, but they missed them,” said a young man, who declined to be named. But the roof of his parents’ house several hundred meters away had been torn off by the force of the explosions.
Olga Miheikina arrived by bicycle from another neighborhood to ask about a family friend and see the damage.
“It’s inhuman,” she said at the sight of the destruction. “These people who call themselves our brothers, who lie to the whole world and to their own people.”
“There will be no forgiveness or divine mercy for such people!”
Not far from there, Anatoly, 82, dressed in blue overalls and a cap, stood in front of what remained of his house: the roof torn off, the windows blown out. He had sent his wife away to friends.
“Before all this, I wanted to live to be a hundred years old,” said the frail old man.
© 2022 AFP