Life is hard in recently liberated Izium and the near vicinity, with all manner of international aid welcome. At the same time, those who have stayed have weathered every hardship.
Power and gas have been partly restored in Izium that Ukrainian forces retook in early September. The hospital is working. People are having problems collecting benefits because it requires a debit card, while there are only a few bank employees issuing the latter.
"They are not letting many people in. An air raid siren will see work halted for an hour or two. The line starts to form at 4 a.m.," Ira said.
"We are from Luhansk Oblast. We were trapped there once in 2014, and I decided to stay here now. My kids have left. My daughter went to Germany and my son is fighting in the war," Vitali said.
There are no buildings still intact in the village of Kamenka near Izium. The village's 1,200 residents are scattered all over the world. But two families have stayed and survived everything.
"As far as we counted – we were not allowed to take a walk in the village – there are 22 guns here," Natalya said.
Russian ammunition boxes have been turned into window shutters and a storage chest. A pig and rabbits are living in the shed. The family's cow lives in another building some way off.
"We have never kept cows, but when people left, they released all the animals. There was a whole herd here, and this one came to us. I could not milk it as I had broken my arm. My daughter-in-law is from the city and had never milked a cow before in her life, but she agreed to take it in. At first, it meant a lot of tears and we were just about ready to send it away. But it all worked out eventually. And the cow has really helped us survive," Natalya said.
The village church burned down but the same family's younger generation, mother, father and a 15-year-old boy, got the icons out under a hail of bullets.
Yarloslav (15) can only access the internet for schoolwork in one specific corner of the attic. "But I can't go online because of slow data speeds. To keep up with school, I have to log in, download my homework, go back downstairs to do my lessons, take pictures of the result, climb back up and send them in," he explained.
Wrecks of Russian armored vehicles line the road from Kamenka to Sloviansk that lies just 48 kilometers from the front in Bakhmut. The local art school, which has a connection to Estonia in the form of a donated Estonia piano, has also been hit in the shelling.
Editor: Marcus Turovski