Citizens escape cities in eastern Ukraine as Russian attacks intensify

Citizens escape cities in eastern Ukraine as Russian attacks intensify

On Sunday, 2,700 people were evacuated, and 1,100 on Monday, according to officials. (Map)

Sloviansk, Ukraine:

By bus and train, residents from Kramatorsk and Sloviansk continue to flow into eastern Ukraine as fears grow, the cities will be key targets of a major new Russian offensive.

Tuesday morning a bush in the green-yellow colors of local football team FC Kramatorsk waited in the rain to pick up about 50 people.

Men left their wives, children and elderly relatives for the trip to the west which was funded by a church group.

Care and sadness were etched on the faces of the loved ones as they prepared to say goodbye to each other.

The frontline is only 50 kilometers (30 miles) away to the north, east and south of Kramatorsk – the main hub of the Ukrainian army for its operations in the east.

That distance may soon be reduced as Russia masses its forces for an attack that many believe will be aimed at capturing the city, and neighboring Slovians, in a pincer movement.

A family got out of a taxi to catch the bus, among them a little girl with a plastic box containing a black-and-white cat.

Valentina Oleynikova, 82, left with her husband.

Angry that the threat of the Russian attack forced her to leave her home, she rejected President Vladimir Putin’s assertion that his forces were seeking to liberate the largely Russian-speaking Donbas region from Ukrainian “neo-Nazis”.

“All my family comes from Russia, I was born there. My father and mother too. I have relatives all over Russia,” she told AFP.

“Here, in Donbas and Kramatorsk live people of all nationalities. Where has he seen Nazis here?”

– ‘Devil incarnate’ –

She reserved special annoyance for the Russian leader when she was ready to board for her trip to stay with her sister-in-law.

“What happens is inhuman, he is a fascist. I do not know what to call him – a devil incarnate,” she said.

“If only we could close the air. Now we hear that a 12-kilometer convoy is ready to attack the Donbas. They are inhumane,” she added, reiterating a common plea on the Ukrainian side for a no-fly zone to stop Russian bombing.

Finally, the luggage was loaded and the bus was ready to pull out.

Valentina’s granddaughter signaled through the window for her to call on her cell phone.

Some of the women wipe away the tears as they leave.

The train station in Kramatorsk has been closed since a rocket attack on Friday killed 57 people when many residents tried to flee.

Trains evacuating people are now leaving about 10 kilometers north from Sloviansk.

Every day two or three trains run to the west.

On Sunday, 2,700 people were evacuated, and 1,100 on Monday, said Svetlana Biletska, the station manager.

The first train left at about 11:00 local time on Tuesday with about 300 passengers.

In the clutter of the station hall, Natalia sold one-way tickets to Dnipro for 200 hryvnia (6 euros, $ 7) and provided information about the schemes from the sole employment agency.

“We added extra cars, for free,” she said, refusing to give her last name.

“Some families are leaving, but many people are staying. They do not want to leave their relatives and their homes.”

She was among those who refused to go.

“I’m not scared anymore,” she told AFP.

“There’s something wrong with me here, I do not know how to explain it. We are working on the track, so we are as strong as the rails.”

– ‘We have to survive’ –

A long train with 12 pale blue wagons arrived empty and immediately began to turn around to take more evacuees with it.

An old lady at the head of Vinnytsia in central Ukraine was a bit lost.

“You have to change from train to another going to Kiev or Lviv,” said a railway worker in an orange vest.

At the steps of the train, 44-year-old Nadiya Zhizhunas said a final goodbye to her husband.

With red eyes, the couple held each other for several minutes.

“We made the decision yesterday. I wanted to stay with my husband, but now I have to leave and he will stay here. We wanted to go through this together, it’s scary,” she told AFP.

“It’s terribly difficult to leave. I have no idea when we’ll be together again. We have to survive first,” she added before turning to board.

Through the window she made a heart to her husband with her thumbs and forefingers.

The train started to pull out, then stopped.

A family with children who were too late walked across the tracks to get on board.

Eventually, it finally left the station. Towards Kiev, arrival expected in twelve hours.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

Notice: ob_end_flush(): failed to send buffer of zlib output compression (0) in /home/rvpgmedi/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 5275