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Mariupol and nearby villages devastated by war

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GNUTOVO, Ukraine - Located just across the street from a house where a man was killed by shelling in early 2015, Galina’s house has not escaped the war either.

Galina, a 73-year old pensioner without anyone to take
care of her, could not contain her emotions and wept constantly. Her children
and their offspring have left, and she does not even know where some of them
are.

Her story is typical of the devastation left by Russia’s
war against Ukraine. Villages located between Mariupol on the Sea of Azov and
Shyrokyne, an area where fighting is intensifying, once had a vibrant life but
are now gloomy and depressive.

Galina showed a Kyiv Post reporter her house in
Gnutovo, a village northeast of Mariupol.

As a result of shelling in February, the house’s roof
was damaged, and windows were broken. The roof is leaking now, and cracks are
running through the walls.

“I fell in the garden,” she said, weeping. “I was
crawling from here, and my husband was crawling from over there.”

She said she had applied to the village council for
compensation to restore the house but had not gotten anything so far.

“I have never thought I would come to this at the end
of my life,” Galina said. “When will this end? We want to die peacefully. We go to bed with my husband and don’t even know whether we will wake up.”

Nikolai, a pensioner from the village of Talakovka
next to Gnutovo, has a similar story to tell.
Part of his fence was destroyed by shelling, while his
neighbor’s fence is covered with shrapnel holes.

His roof is leaking because of shelling, and a pipe
used to water plants in his garden was broken. “It’s
easier to destroy than to build,” he said.

Nikolai also showed his basement, where he usually hides
with his dog during shelling.

Pionerske, a village on the seacoast west of Shyrokyne,
used to be a bustling spa resort with children’s summer camps and a lot of
tourists and athletes visiting, said Olga, an unemployed resident of the
village.

But the war has changed everything, and now there are
almost no jobs, she said. The kindergarten has been closed, and doctors at the local
hospital are not getting paid.

When shelling begins, there is almost nowhere to hide
because there is groundwater in the basements near the coast, Olga said. She
said that she had to lie on the ground in the garden during shelling.

Mariupol’s Vostochny district has also been affected
by shelling.

Viktor Zarubin, a young activist of Mariupol’s
pro-Ukrainian self-defense, says that the shelling of the area by
Kremlin-backed forces in January was the final straw that pushed him to act and
join the self-defense.

“My worldview changed after Jan. 24,” he said. “I was
at home alone. It was the most horrible day in my life. The house was shaking,
glass was breaking, chairs were falling and tableware was rattling.”

Viktor woke up, ran to the middle of the hall and
heard explosions right near the windows.
His neighbor was killed by shelling.

I heard that a window was broken, and a chandelier was
literally beating against the ceiling,” he said. “I fell and crawled towards
the basement, where I sat for 10 minutes. Then I went out to the yard, and
everything was burned.”

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