Home News ‘Kharkov is impregnable’: The ravaged city continues

‘Kharkov is impregnable’: The ravaged city continues


The espresso machine was preheating and Liliia Korneva was counting cash in the coffee shop where she worked in Kharkiv when a powerful Russian bomb detonated nearby, causing a deafening explosion that knocked her down On the ground.

“I can’t describe the feeling in words, it was so terrible,” said Ms. Corneva, 20. She was reportedly uninjured, but the courtyard where the bomb fell was destroyed and a man on a bicycle nearby was killed. . city ​​officials.

Just one day later, the cafe reopened. Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, is also open for business, despite an ongoing bombing campaign that has been one of the most devastating of the entire war and growing concerns that Russia may launch a new offensive to capture the city. City.

The Russian attack destroyed all three major power stations, but residents continue to live and work with only a few hours a day of often unpredictable power. More than 100 schools were damaged or destroyed, but classes continued deep beneath metro stations. Dozens of fire stations and nursing stations were bombed, putting first responders at risk every day but not stopping them from continuing to do their job.

Andrii Dronov, 39-year-old deputy chief of the Kharkiv fire department, said: “When a rocket hits, within three to four hours all the windows are cleared, all central roads are cleared “Clean.” “In the morning, it looked like nothing had happened and there was no explosion.”

However, as attacks intensify, there are real questions about how long Kharkov, 25 miles from the Russian border, can hold out without a more capable air defense system. Russia is bombing it for the first time since March using one of the deadliest weapons in its arsenal: powerful guided bombs dropped from warplanes, known as glide bombs, which can fire hundreds of pounds of explosives at a time.

“This is a tactic to scare people, to get people out of their homes, to evacuate people,” Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said in a recent interview. The interview was conducted at an undisclosed location because his office was a target. “It’s destructive to the city itself.”

Ukrainian officials say more missiles have been fired at Kharkiv, a city of 1.3 million people, since January than at any time since the early months of the war. Ukrainian authorities have ordered forced evacuations of villages east of the city as border violence escalates.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov became the Kremlin’s most senior official last week send signal to moscow plans to seize Kharkiv, saying it “plays an important role” in President Vladimir V. Putin’s stated desire to create a “sanitary zone” along Russia’s borders. Military analysts pointed out that military activities in the region have increased significantly.

It is unclear whether Russia is seriously considering an attack from the north. It may simply be an attempt to stretch the Ukrainian army by forcing it to strengthen its defenses on the new northern front, while also trying to stoke public panic in Kharkov.

For city dwellers, such speculation only adds to the anxiety of living under daily bombardment. On Monday, they watched as Russia hit the city’s main television tower with a missile in broad daylight, sending the nearly 800-foot-tall top of the main mast crashing to the ground in a cloud of dust and twisted metal.

But the main cause of panic today are glide bombs, large bombs that Moscow has in large numbers, complete with wings and guidance systems. Russia has recently improved these bombs so that they can fly more than 60 miles, bringing Kharkiv and other population centers within range for the first time.

Ukrainian officials say at least 15 guided bombs have hit Kharkiv in the past three weeks.

Reduced supplies of anti-aircraft weapons have left Ukrainian towns and cities more vulnerable in recent weeks, and Kyiv hopes a $60 billion military aid package set to be signed by President Joe Biden this week will begin to remedy the situation.

At the same time, residents struggled to maintain a sense of order amid the chaos and uncertainty of war. For example, the crater in the courtyard outside Ms. Corneva’s coffee shop has been filled, broken windows boarded up, broken trees cut down and the playground repaired. She started making espresso again, albeit with fewer customers.

Last week, New York Times reporters toured the city with paramedics and firefighters, observing daily life and speaking with residents and local officials. The wide range of emotions is palpable. There is no easy way to explain what it feels like to live under the threat of death every day when Russia launches missiles that can strike anywhere in a city in less than a minute.

“No one knows if they will see the morning,” the mayor said. “But nonetheless, we live, work and absolutely love our city.”

There was no exodus from Kharkov like the first weeks of the war, when artillery fire roared day and night and the population dropped from a pre-war high of 2 million to 300,000.After the Russians were driven out of most of the Kharkov region Kyiv’s counterattack Local officials say more than 1 million people will return by the fall of 2022.

“I feel a strong sense of homesickness,” said Anna Ivanova, a 19-year-old student who fled to Finland but returned after the Russians were pushed back. “Here I have my plans, dreams and wishes.”

Recently, a rocket hit her mother’s friend’s house. Instead of running away, the friend moved in with her mother and they had no plans to leave. “I would use a cliché phrase,” Ms. Ivanova said. “Kharkov is impregnable, despite the obvious fatigue of the people.”

“It’s so scary to be alive and enjoy life,” said Amil Nasirov, 29, the lead singer of pop band Kurgan & Agregat.

He said you would hear explosions at night and then you would see objects being hit during the day. “You think, it’s nearby, not far from me, about 700-800 meters away,” he said. “You think, ‘Wow, this is crazy.'”

He had just attended the premiere of a new Ukrainian film “Stone, Paper, Grenade”, which tells the story of growing up in Ukraine in the 1990s. The audience was all sold out. The shopping mall where the film was screened was damaged in a missile attack in March 2022. On a recent Sunday afternoon, the reconstructed mall, now powered by generators, was bustling with families.

Apart from the constant and often ignored sound of sirens in the air, it could be any square in any peaceful European city.

“The scariest thing is that people have gotten used to it,” Mr. Nasirov said. “The shelling started from 11pm to 1am, what is this? Why should we get used to it?”

The most widespread destruction still occurred in the northeastern region of Saltivka, where the front line was briefly stationed early in the war. Shattered apartment buildings are evidence of the damage Russian ground forces inflicted before retreating.

But few corners of Kharkov are immune to violence.

The boulevards in the center of the Old Town are lined with mesmerizing architectural styles, with 18th-century neoclassical designs intertwined with Soviet-era Constructivist architecture that abandoned decorative design. The delicate facade is now riddled with shrapnel. The bare concrete building was scorched by the fire. One of the houses could remain largely intact while a building next door is demolished.

Local artist Dina Chmuzh painted verses from past and present Ukrainian poets on wooden boards that now cover many of the blown-out windows. She compared the plank to a kind of armor. “The city seems to be trying to protect itself,” she said.

Ms. Hermuzh said understanding Kharkov’s history can strengthen people’s resolve. The city was the center of the Ukrainian nationalist movement in the early 20th century and the site of Stalin’s bloody campaign to stifle aspirations for independence.

“Even if you feel like you can’t take it anymore, you can still draw strength from it, even in the midst of this pain,” she said.

Liubov Sholudko contributed reporting from Kharkov.

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