Courageous Russian attack, three women walked for hours from their front-line homes in the southern Ukrainian village of Kamianske on a recent morning to collect supplies from a humanitarian drop-off point in the village of Stepnohirsk, about five miles away.
Svitlana, Lesya and Natasha live in the so-called gray zone, a buffer area between Ukrainian and Russian positions on the Zaporizhzhia front in southern Ukraine. The front line has changed little since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, when forces in Kyiv halted the Russian advance by blowing up a bridge in Kamianske.
Russian troops were located south of the village, and were firing artillery shells day and night while Ukrainian troops were located to the north and east. Although most of the residents left the small village after the invasion, the three women stayed, living on the produce from their gardens and taking care of their dogs despite the almost constant threat of bombing artillery which left the village largely destroyed.
The front line area has come under heavier bombardment since January as Russian forces prepare to defend against a long-awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Lesya’s husband was killed in his garden when a Russian shell landed nearby in April last year. Svitlana’s house was destroyed by a shooting last spring and she moved into a neighbor’s house. He was also injured in an explosion in April while delivering bread supplies to villagers. The girls’ last names are being withheld for security reasons.
They arrived in Stepnohirsk, the closest place where government emergency services deliver humanitarian aid, mainly to collect sacks of dog food, which they balanced on their bicycles for the journey home.
“We’ve been walking since 5 o’clock in the morning,” said Lesya. “We had to hide from the attack many times.”
At home, they make their cellars comfortable living quarters to shelter from shells.
“We’re used to it,” said Natasha. “We sit in cellars, which look like hotels. We are waiting for the victory. We pray.” As he spoke, he began to cry.
“I was born there, baptized there. I will die there,” said Svitlana about Kamianske.
Local firefighters are among the few who continue to go to the village, putting out fires from the attack, rescuing people injured in the explosions and bringing humanitarian supplies for the remaining residents.
“Only stupid people are not afraid,” said Serhii, 47, the commander of the local fire station in Stepnohirsk. “But we’re still working.” He also only gave his name for security reasons.
He said his house, along with almost every building in Kamianske, was destroyed by Russian shelling. “There is nothing left in Kamianske,” he said.
He showed a picture of his rose garden on his cell phone. “That’s what happened before the ‘Russian world’ came,” he said, a reference to President Vladimir V. Putin’s vision of a united Russian-speaking territory that includes Ukraine. Serhii swiped his phone to show a photo of his yard as it was today — burned and covered in rubble.
In a small street market in Stepnohirsk, Alla Viktorivna sells potatoes, onions and tomatoes from her garden.
“Business is not very good,” he said, explaining that there was little left in the village to sell.
“I never thought about leaving,” he continued. “How can you leave your house, your garden, cats, dogs? I have a big dog.”
When the attack started, he said he usually hid in his cellar.
“But sometimes at night, you don’t have time, you just roll under your sofa,” he said. “You hear it whistling and smashing.”