Report from Avdiivka
30 bombing raids a day on a devastated city: “No matter what happens, I’m not leaving”
The Ukrainian city of Avdiivka is almost completely destroyed, but the Russian army continues to bombard it. People are still holding out there. One of them is Viktor Grozdov.
“No matter what happens, I’m not leaving,” says Viktor Grozdow. The 77-year-old is one of the last inhabitants of Avdiivka. Although the city in south-eastern Ukraine has been almost completely destroyed, the Russians continue to bomb it daily. Grozdow is nonetheless determined to stay – where his wife and son are buried.
“My soul is here,” says the old man in his apartment near the cinema. The explosions blew out all the windows, the wallpaper is hanging in tatters, only the family photos have survived. There is a radio on the bed and the bathtub is filled with canned goods and bottles of oil. Volunteers bring him water and Groceries. Grozdow has a camp stove for cooking.
When the bombing began, Grozdow says he fled to the bathroom and flattened himself on the floor. Now he seems to ignore the noise of war, the rumble of tanks. “I’m not afraid, I’ve found peace,” he told journalists from the AFP news agency.
30,000 people once lived in Avdiivka
It is already the second encounter with Grozdow. The first time, in April, the pensioner had slipped into a crater after shopping and needed reporters’ help. “I was walking up the avenue thinking I would quickly walk around the bomb or shell crater,” he recalled. “Then I tripped and fell in. I tried to get out, but the dirt was loose and slid under my weight.”
1,719 of the once 30,000 inhabitants are still holding out in the small town 13 kilometers north of Donetsk – without water and electricity. “About 60 percent are older than 65 years,” said Vitaly Barabatsch, head of the military administration. Not a single house is intact, the Russians attacked Avdiivka 30 times a day on average. “In the past few months there hasn’t been a day without air or missile attacks,” says Barabatsch.
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Grozdow nevertheless dares to take to the streets. Leaning on his cane, he follows the paths he knows well. Grozdow is half-blind, which makes the walks even more dangerous. Even before the Russian attack, his life was hard: Grozdov was just a baby when his mother was killed, growing up in an orphanage in Donetsk. Later he worked in the Avdiivka coking plant. His son became addicted to drugs and violent. Once he hit his father hard on the head. Since then, Grozdow has been unable to see out of one eye.
“Like Russian Roulette”
A grenade got stuck in the facade on the ground floor of the house. Grozdow’s neighbor Vitali Semin sits in the basement, carving wooden animals by torchlight. “That distracts us from the thoughts that won’t let us go: of the people, of Ukraine, why there is no peace,” says the 63-year-old.
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The main shelter for the last residents is an underground shelter where volunteers offer food and hot drinks. There is also WiFi, a TV and electricity for cell phones. About twenty people are there right now. Most wear headphones and are busy with their smartphone or tablet.
65-year-old Pawel watches the news. One arm of his glasses broke off. The shelter is the only place where he can relax a little, he says. “At home you wonder if a bomb will go down or not – it’s like Russian roulette. Sometimes I get desperate.” His family fled long ago, and he too would like nothing more than to leave desolate Avdiivka. But Pavel thinks he has to stay – to protect his house from looters.