ERR in Orikhiv: How locals are surviving under constant bombardment

Residents of Orikhiv in a shelter.
Residents of Orikhiv in a shelter. Source: ERR

In a number of towns and settlements close to the Ukrainian frontline, despite the constant Russian attacks, many people have opted to stay, rather than leaving their homes. In the town of Orikhiv, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, ETV show "Välisilm" took a look at how the local authorities are helping residents to survive under such difficult conditions.

Orikhiv is four kilometers from the frontline as the crow flies. Despite being under constant bombardment, the town still has a functioning municipal administration, as well as police and rescue services. Ten percent of Orikhiv's 18,000-strong population have opted to remain there.

However, nowadays, life in Orikhiv means spending considerable parts of each day sheltering in basements.

"There are times when we don't come out of the basements for 14 or even 18 hours because of the constant attacks. There are Grads, Uragans, Smerches, mortars. We don't have those kinds of things. In the last few days, we have been bombarded with 500-kilogram bombs, which completely destroy entire blocks," said Orikhiv Deputy Mayor Svitlana Mandrich.

But, why are the 2,000 or so people who remain in the city refusing to leave, even though the Ukrainian government is offering to evacuate them? "They say we were born here and will die here. It's just scary for them to travel into the unknown," explained Mandrich.

There are no shops or hospitals now operating in Orikhiv. "At the moment, we are supplied with food and meals. We have handed out cast-iron stoves because there is no electricity, gas or water in the town. Only two of the 19 wells are working. They are powered by generators, which were brought to us by volunteers," said Mandrich.

Nine shelters have been set up in the town, where people can gather during the day to survive. At the time when ERR journalists Astrid Kannel and Tarmo Aarma were visiting one of these shelters, two aerial bombs fell nearby.

"No one knows how many more of these bombs might come. Nobody knows how long we will have to stay in this shelter, but there is a church service going on in the next room," said Kannel.

In that same shelter, a well has also been created. "We started by drilling a well right here, so we could get water. We had to drill down 42 meters for the well," said Mandrich, describing the process of getting water into the basement of the former school building.

"Here we have installed a water treatment system. There is water for washing. That's where we'll have water to drink, because drinking water is a big problem in the town," she added.

"There are washing machines – five, with dryers. You can wash. People bring their things here and our volunteers help the residents to do their laundry. There are five shower cubicles that people can use to shower and wash. There has to be cleanliness, even during times of war. We even have hairdryers, so people can dry their hair. And we have a volunteer hairdresser here two days a week who does people's hair. Even during wartime, we understand that everything has to be beautiful," said Mandrich.

There is also a large social room. "Even in wartime, we remain human. These are simply human needs, that we haven't been able to fulfil for a long time. People are just sitting in basements most of the time. It's really difficult," said the deputy mayor.

On the wall of the hall hangs a huge Ukrainian flag, which has been signed by volunteers from all over Ukraine and the world as a show of solidarity and support.

"We can see that we are not alone, that the whole world is with us and that the whole Ukraine is with us. This is a great comfort for us. It keeps us going internally and helps us to keep the fighting spirit that we have kept for more than a year," said Mandrich.

Kostja is one of the local volunteers. "In the beginning, yes, our legs were shaking. Now, once you get to the shelter, it's okay. If you survive the whole day, then that's already good," he said.

"I'm grateful to the whole world for helping us. I'm extremely grateful, because without that help we would probably be having an even harder time. And we are happy that we turned out to be much stronger than even we had thought," Mandrich added.

Since Russia's full-scale invasion began last February, 38 civilians have been killed and 192 injured in Orikhiv. Four children still live in the town itself and a further 17 in the surrounding villages.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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