When the shelling took place, the people of eastern Ukraine were cowering

NOVOTOSHKIVSKE, Ukraine – Artillery shells hit a circle of frontline towns in eastern Ukraine on Friday, blowing out windows, hitting schools, homes and military positions – and fueling fears that Escalation here is only a prelude to directing Russian military action.

“I have a small child,” said Nadya Lapygina, a resident of Staryi Aidar, one of dozens of towns hit by artillery and mortar fire on Friday on the breakaway region’s northern border. “You don’t know how scary it is to hide him from shelling.”

They huddled under the stairs of their home and were unharmed when they passed two electric lights on Thursday morning and Friday afternoon, Ms. Lapygina said. Fighting between government troops and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine began on Thursday and has not stopped, authorities and aid groups say, with dozens of towns in dozens of towns. and villages belonging to the government-controlled faction were shelled.

Ukrainian military officials and the defense minister confirmed the shelling, saying Russian-backed separatists fired 84 times with heavy weapons on Thursday and Friday.

Eastern Ukraine, poor, remote and stuck in an eight-year war, is increasingly looking like a flashpoint that could spark a broader conflict. That fear was only reinforced by a video message from Russian separatists on Friday warning without evidence of an impending military attack by Ukraine and calling on people in the People’s Republic to Self-proclaimed Donetsk evacuated to Russia.

The video was denounced by Kyiv as a baseless provocation.

Western governments have issued almost daily warnings of Russian aggression, after the Kremlin massed troops near Ukraine’s border and demanded security concessions from NATO and the United States, but were largely rebuffed. . Russian officials say they have no plans to invade but have not slowed down the mass concentration of what Western officials say is up to 190,000 troops around the Ukrainian border.

US officials said they were closely monitoring the violence in eastern Ukraine, out of concern that Russia could use the escalation and the danger it poses to ethnic Russians and other civilians. pretext for invasion.

Russian officials deny plans to invade Ukraine and present a completely different view of the fighting in the east. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov on Friday said Moscow was concerned about a “strong increase in shelling in eastern Ukraine,” which he blamed on Ukrainian forces.

“The Kyiv regime has been violating its responsibilities for several years,” he said. “Every time we agree on new measures to help impose a ceasefire, Kyiv undermines them.”

In eastern Ukraine, a cold rain fell on long patches of snow, and few people ventured out Friday in the streets of villages along the northern edge of the dividing line.

Explosions rang out continuously, as the fighters took turns firing. “It makes you think maybe it’s time to run,” says Tatyana Neiman, a nurse and single mother in the village of Vrubivka.

Luckily, it hit her while she was at work and her 10-year-old son, Bogdan, was quarantining with Covid at a friend’s house. “I am alone,” she said. “I am raising it alone. And now he’s scared.”

Proliska, a local NGO group affiliated with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugeesprovided aid to affected families throughout the day.

A few doors down, Valentina Melnichenko, 72, a retired warehouse worker, was watching television Friday morning when a shell landed in her backyard, destroying a small brick house. Her husband, who died a few years ago, built it, she said. “Now, it’s destroyed,” she said, with tears in her eyes.

The impact crater, about a foot deep and surrounded by black streaks in the snow, yards and a school playground.

The explosions cut tree branches and shattered windows.

Olena Yaryna, the town’s school principal, said the shell hit the playground around 10:30 a.m., breaking a window but causing little other damage. She and the teachers herded the children into the hallway, away from the windows, and let them lie flat on the floor.

“That’s how we lived through it,” Ms. Yarnya said. “I don’t understand at all why they shot us.” She added, “The kids were scared and the parents even more.”

Fighting in eastern Ukraine is not unusual, with periodic flare-ups throughout the war years. However, locals said the recent increase was the most severe in two years, since the expected ceasefire and few violations went into effect.

And it comes amid an escalation as Russia announces major military exercises this weekend that will launch ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as test the country’s strategic nuclear forces. – land-based launchers, bombers and warships are used for delivery. nuclear weapons – and naval exercises in the Black Sea.

The Defense Ministry said the drills were planned in advance and Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov denied that they were intended to increase tensions.

But they are coming to a critical juncture in their confrontation with Ukraine.

“People are scared,” said Vera Voitenko, 62, a Red Cross volunteer in the village of Novotoshkivske, about a mile from the front line. She said people would leave if they could, “but who is waiting for us, and where?”

The village school’s vice-principal, Natalia Dotsenko, said she was awakened by a barrage of firecrackers early Thursday morning. Although occasional outbursts occur near the front, she says intermittent bursts are different, adding: “We understood something dangerous was coming.”

But she said there was nothing more they could do to prepare for the onslaught, should it happen. The kids have been drilled: Three blaring whistles mean fire, and they should leave the building; A long whistle meant artillery was going off, and they should hurry to the bomb shelter in the basement.

Older children were instructed to grab first graders and preschoolers under the armpits and carry them down to the basement. Ms. Dotsenko said that during the artillery drills and some cases where the artillery actually arrived, the students performed well.

Her face was pinched with anxiety as she described the drill, and she nervously clenched her fist. “You can’t explain fear with words,” she says.

In the street, mud flows between potholes. Many brick buildings two and three stories high bear traces of previous shelling.

On Friday morning, as firecrackers exploded across town, 55-year-old Sofia Sakhibgarayeva, a house cleaner wearing a red hat, leopard leather jacket and purple gloves, walked up to the middle of a deserted street and said that she is going grocery shopping.

“It’s nerve-wracking,” she admits, but says she doesn’t want to succumb to anxiety. “Look at my gloves,” she said. “Don’t you think they’re pretty?”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/18/world/europe/ukraine-russia-separatists-shelling.html When the shelling took place, the people of eastern Ukraine were cowering

Fry Electronics Team

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