“We keep a cross for every day we live here,” said Nadia Ryzkova, 76, in a dark underground shelter in the northeastern Ukrainian village of Kutuzivka, where she lives with about 50 people.
Ryzkova points to the calendar marked by the Red Cross on February 24, before hitting her outspoken cat, Murchik (“Purar”), the day the Russians began their invasion of Ukraine.
The beds in the shelter are lined with three large rooms where most of the occupants are elderly women.
Electrical cables hang from concrete ceilings, which attach some dim light bulbs to car batteries placed under some chairs.
A wood-burning stove emits a suffocating heat, but away from the fire, a cold damp air covers the surroundings.
But Marfa Khizniak, 72, is happy with this harsh consolation, after the countless shells fell on the village of 1,500 residents at the beginning of the counter-attack in Ukraine on March 25.
“It was scary, I was so scared. No sound. It was unbearable. I was sitting in my bathroom praying. Then I came here for shelter. Even a small place, a chair would be enough for me,” he says.
“Some have returned to the village today but for what? Everything is ruined,” Khizniak added, shedding a few tears before explaining that he was suffering from “depression” and was taking medication.
Without a telephone connection, her children and loved ones have no news, but she assures herself: “I live with the hope that they are alive. That is what keeps me alive.”
Russian troops ended their push for Kharkiv but retained their position east of the city, firing on the east and surrounding villages. Cannon exchange continues, especially at night.
A school, town hall and several houses were destroyed in the bombings in the last few days during the Russian advance and counter-attack by Ukrainian forces.
“It’s definitely dangerous. Shots are fired, shells are fired, but we’re used to it. We don’t pay much attention to it anymore,” said Vlad, a 35-year-old tractor driver, while delivering water tanks to shelter residents Comes to rush.
Earlier they had to fetch water from the well.
Hundreds of meters away from the shelter, the soldiers get some deserved rest in a house by leaving an empty hole in a wall hit by a shell.
Despite some scattered artillery shells, the atmosphere is calm as men and women sit in chairs. They came back from the front line about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) away.
Laska, a 36-year-old military nurse, said: “It’s raging in the front row. It’s very hot. We’ve been there seven days, I don’t really remember. For me it was like a long day.”
A businesswoman was preparing to study for a doctorate of science before the attack, she gave up everything to help in the war effort.
“I don’t see what else I can do. Everyone has to volunteer or defend the country,” he said, waiting for the call to return to the front.
“I’ll be back for sure, as soon as the order comes. Our boys are there, we can’t leave them alone!” Laska said.
In the same place, the war-hardened deputy squadron leader nicknamed “Chekist” has a lot of fighting experience.
“I have spent a lot of time in the war. This is my job. I defend my homeland,” said a soldier who has been fighting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014.
When “I’m fighting, I see pictures of my kids and I know why I’m fighting,” he said, adding that the Ukrainian army is now calling in young, inexperienced soldiers.
“A lot of people come and they never hold guns. Before, we could train them but at the moment, they have learned up front. Unfortunately, we lost a lot of people,” he said while lighting a cigarette.
But he has remained hostile.
“We will win the war. It will be difficult but our morale is intact. Intact! Intact!” He said. “We won’t.”
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)