Kupyansk, Ukraine (CNN) The artillery fire gets worse at night, so Lyuba and her husband hold hands. It keeps them safe, she says with a sad nod of her head. She’s standing in what’s left of her garden after it was bombed during a very bad night a month ago.
Their neighbour’s house was destroyed by the bombing, and Liuba and her husband were thrown onto their kitchen floor. She says Surhi landed with the fridge on top of him and luckily she was more shaken than the physical injury. However, they will not go.
“This is our home,” Lyuba told CNN. “Not the Russians. Besides the heat and with the rain water we collect from buckets, we will survive.”
Lyuba and Serhiy, who have only given their first names for security reasons, are among the last 2,500 residents of Kupyansk, a city in Ukraine Northeast Kharkiv, from which the front line has never been far away and to which the Ukrainian authorities fear it will return again.
Since mid-February, the noise of artillery – all the dull noise of outgoing whistles – approached alarmingly, says Kupyansk police chief Konstantin Tarasov. The Russian positions are now less than 5 miles from a city they captured at the start of the invasion before losing to a Ukrainian counterattack in September.
Last week, the Ukrainian authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation of the most vulnerable residents of Kobyansk, due to the “ongoing” Russian bombing.
“We put signs everywhere about free evacuations with phone numbers to call,” said Dmytro Kovalov, one of the volunteers involved in the evacuations.
“As the bombing intensifies, more people sign up. But then the internet went out for two days, so they couldn’t connect,” Kovalov told CNN. “That’s why we just started visiting addresses blindly, knocking on doors. But some people refuse to go. They don’t want to leave their homes behind, and they hope the Russians will be pushed back.”
On most days, authorities say, they manage between eight and 40 evacuations, although they remain voluntary.
As of last week, there were still 350 children and 363 people with disabilities within the city, according to a Kupyansk police spokesman. In addition to the frequent bombing, the city is also difficult to access due to the damage caused by more than a year of war to the infrastructure, including the many roads and bridges leading in and out.
The main market has also been reduced to rubble, forcing the remaining townspeople to buy and sell whatever they can on cardboard boxes along a dirt path. Everything that is placed can be easily packed if the sound of bombing is approaching.
Piling yellow smoked fish among the produce laid out in front of her, Lida has become an expert, she says, at the sound of incoming and outgoing artillery. She lived six months under Russian occupation last year. She told CNN that she would not be transferred from Kupyansk this time either.
“We are not rats!” Said Lida, who only gave her first name for security reasons. “Besides, if we go, who will take command?”
About 100 yards from where she was sitting, Tarasov, the police chief, showed CNN what a Russian Grad missile had done to a makeshift drug dispensary just a few days earlier. But beyond the wreckage and remnants of the missile, there isn’t much left to see. This is what the Russians are doing, Tarasov said, as they seek to close in on the city centre, targeting the few civilians who remain as they try to survive.
But Lida is not impressed.
“What is the difference?” she asked. “They’re bombing Kharkiv, too. Is there any certainty I’ll survive there? No. So, we’ll just stay here and hide where we can, behind houses, or somewhere.”
Most of the buildings bear the scars of the relentless attacks, and many have been demolished. For the last two thousand civilians in Kobyansk, there are not many places left to hide.
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