ERR in Kharkiv: Battles still within earshot but ordinary life recovering

Astrid Kannel in Kharkiv.
Astrid Kannel in Kharkiv. Source: ERR

Normal life is slowly returning to Ukraine's second largest city Kharkiv. However, battles can be heard on the outskirts of town and residential areas are still seeing scattered missile attacks. The city is largely empty after hundreds of thousands have evacuated.

Kharkiv looks relatively abandoned around noon, allowing people to take their bicycles onto the city's four-lane roads. The city council is just one of many iconic buildings in central Kharkiv to have taken a hit.

A missile hit a Kharkiv suburb as recently as Monday, while it is nothing compared to what the city has seen in recent months.

"The situation in the city is quite difficult, while people are returning. Everyone is homesick. I recently brought my family back as everyone is tired of staying abroad as refugees – it is very hard," said Dmytro Bulahh, member of the Kharkiv city council.

Kharkiv is largely a Russian-speaking city and had a fair amount of pro-Russian sentiment before 2014. The war changed everything.

"Because everyone saw the meaning of Russian love. The number of people who feel that way plummeted, and I don't think they make up more than 2-3 percent of the population now," Bulahh said.

Areas on the outskirts of Kharkiv, like Severnaya Saltovka that is now seeing a concentrated clear-up effort, have taken the most damage. In Severnaya Saltovka, battles raging relatively close to the town can still be heard. Ironically, it also has a street named Friendship of Nations.

Locals now have the chance to go and see what is left of their homes.

"Seventh floor. Look, can you see the hole in the seventh-floor balcony? A missile flew into our apartment but didn't explode. There was no fire, while it still wrecked everything. The apartment is gone. This is everything we could salvage from the three-room flat. We put it in our car," Yelena said.

Eduard lives on the eighth floor. "This used to be a closed zone, no civilians allowed. I saw it all when I returned. It is unfortunate as my wife and daughter also live here. They are staying in the countryside now," he said.

Two women living on the second and third floors of a large building decided not to run from the war and have survived it all.

"We hid in the bathroom when the Russians opened fire. It flew into our building and everything shook. /…/ Everything was on fire, the entire hallway and apartments were full of smoke," Svetlana said.

ERR correspondent: Situation fragile

ERR journalist Astrid Kannel, who was in Kharkiv Wednesday, said that things are peaceful in Kharkiv compared to quite recently and some people have started to return.

"In truth, everything is still fragile. I talked to a soldier who did not wish to appear on camera but said the situation was still very difficult. And that just because the Russians have been driven out of the city does not mean they aren't happy to terrorize it from a distance using rockets – Kharkiv lies just 40 kilometers from Russia. That is precisely what they are doing," the correspondent said.

"Just three days ago, a missile landed in the city center and there were casualties. Everything is still very fragile in that sense. He defined it for me as Kharkiv being a city where children have no business, to suggest that families with kids should not return yet," Kannel added.

She said that Kharkiv still has people who are convinced buildings are being bombarded by Ukrainians.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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