Kupiansk – Russia’s devastation and invasion of Ukraine began over a year ago and show no signs of abating.
Despite several allies, including the US, rallying behind Ukraine, the Russian military continues to pour into the country.
As a result, residents across the country are being urged to escape in order to avoid the approaching invaders.
Residents of the Kupiansk neighborhood in Kharkiv Oblast in northeastern Ukraine were instructed to flee days earlier after reports of heavy fighting in the area.
The call for evacuation
Oleh Syniehubov, the Chief of the Kharkiv Oblast Military Administration, issued the evacuation demands on a 24/7 national telecast.
According to Syniehubov, the Russian military regularly bombs cities, towns, and villages in the Kupiansk Hromada.
“Regarding evacuation from the Kupiansk front, which is currently the hottest: it is where the frontline is currently located, and enemy forces are relentlessly trying to attack the positions of our forces.”
“That’s why we announced mandatory evacuation. We are trying to explain this to local residents.”
“The Oblast Military Administration and volunteer organizations are making efforts to evacuate everyone who wants to leave unsafe locations.”
Additionally, according to Syniehubov, the evacuated residents got humanitarian assistance as well as free lodging in safer districts of Kharkiv Oblast and other Ukrainian provinces.
Despite evacuation instructions, numerous residents have decided to stay put.
Some 2,500 people have stayed in Kupiansk, where the front line has never moved too far.
Liuba and Serhei stayed even after shelling damaged their neighbor’s house in February.
“This is our home,” Liuba said. “Not the Russians’. Besides, it’s getting warmer, and with the rainwater we collect from buckets, we will survive.”
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Russia inches closer
According to Kupiansk police head Konstiantyn Tarasov, the sound of artillery, both entering and exiting, has become dangerously closer since mid-February.
Russian forces are less than 5 kilometers from a city they took at the start of their invasion before losing it to Ukraine’s counteroffensive in September.
This Monday, Ukrainian officials ordered the urgent evacuation of Kupiansk’s most vulnerable residents.
“We have put signs up everywhere about the free evacuation with the phone numbers to call,” said Dmytro Kovalov, a volunteer in the evacuations.
“As shelling has intensified, more people have been registering. But then the internet was cut for two days so they couldn’t get in touch.”
“That’s why we started just blindly visiting addresses, knocking on doors. But some people refuse to go,” Kovalov continued.
“They don’t want to leave their houses behind, and they hope that the Russians will be pushed back.”
Most days, authorities claim they manage eight to forty evacuations, with those who stay choosing to do so.
According to a police spokesperson in Kupiansk, the city still had 350 minors and 363 people with disabilities as of last week.
Apart from the ongoing shelling, Kupiansk is difficult to reach owing to the year-long destruction to the city’s infrastructure, including roads and bridges.
The main market has also been devastated, leaving the few survivors to rely on cardboard boxes to buy and sell what they could.
Its configuration is helpful since it allows them to easily pack their stuff if the sound of shelling may be heard close.
Lida is one among those who choose to stay in Kupiansk.
Last year, she was under Soviet control for six months.
When selling yellowed smoked fish, Lida claims to be an expert in the sound of approaching and departing artillery.
“We are not rats,” she said regarding her decision to stay. “Besides, if we go, who will take over?”
A missile shattered the ruins of a makeshift medical facility not far from Lida.
“This is what the Russians do as they seek to move closer to the city center,” said Tarasov.
“Targeting the few civilians left as they try to survive.”
Despite the Russian threat, Lida seems unfazed.
“What’s the difference? They are shelling Kharkiv as well. Is there any certainty I will stay alive there? No.”
“So, we will stay here and hide where we can, behind the houses, or somewhere.”
Most structures in Kupiansk, on the other hand, have been battle-worn by the frequent bombing, with many completely destroyed.
There aren’t many places for the survivors to run or hide.