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Splintered Ukrainian City Braces for New Battle With Russia | World News

FRANCESCA EBEL, by the Associated Press

Sloviansk, Ukraine (AP) – A group of young off-duty Ukrainian soldiers gathered at a military distribution center to enjoy a rare respite from the fighting that once again engulfed their broken home in eastern Ukraine.

As they share a joke and a pizza, artillery explosions can be heard a few kilometers away – a reminder of the 2014 battle against the threat of unveiling in the Slovian city occupied by Russian proxy fighters in 2014.

“Everyone knows there will be a huge war in Slovians,” said one soldier, who declined to be named for security reasons.

Now, eight years after the last time their city was captured, the war is back. If the Donbass region, the center of Ukraine’s predominantly Russian-speaking industry, occupies Moscow, the last remaining Ukrainian fortress in the Luhansk province, 70 kilometers (43 miles) east of Moscow, Sloviansk could become the next main target of the Russian campaign.

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Another soldier, a 23-year-old accountant who joined the attack, said Ukrainian forces did not have the weapons to fight the Russian army’s superior arsenal.

“We know what’s coming,” he said with a sad smile.

The soldiers were still teenagers when pro-Russian separatists occupied the city for three months. The brief occupation in 2014 terrorized Sloviansk, where dozens of officials and journalists were taken hostage and several murders took place.

Heavy fighting and shelling ensued when the Ukrainian army laid siege to retake the city.

“In fact, the war never left Sloviansk. It didn’t leave people’s heads, ”said Tetiana Khimion, a 43-year-old dancer who converted a fishing shop into the center of a local military unit.

“On the one hand, it’s easy for us because we know what it’s like. On the other hand, it is more difficult for us because we have been living like this for eight years in a state of suspension. ”

Sloviansk is a city of divided allegiance. With a large retired population, it is not uncommon for older residents to sympathize with Russia or hear nostalgia for their Soviet past. There is also distrust of the Ukrainian army and government.

After the recent shootings in his apartment block, a resident named Sergei said he believed Ukraine had started the strike.

“I am not pro-Russian, I am not pro-Ukrainian. I’m somewhere in between, “he said. “Both Russians and Ukrainians kill civilians – everyone should understand that.”

On Thursday, a group of elderly residents could not hide their frustration when a bomb blast shattered their roof and shattered their windows.

Ukraine “They are protecting us, but what kind of protection is it?” Asked a man who did not mention his name.

“They’re on their knees near that biden – let him die!” Referring to US President Joe Biden, his neighbor Tatiana said.

Since 2014, Khimion said, it has become easier to know “who” in Sloviansk. “Now you can easily see: these people are for Ukraine, and these people are for Russia.”

He said not enough was done after 2014 to punish those who cooperated with Russian proxies to prevent a recurrence of the situation.

“So we can’t negotiate, we have to win. Otherwise it will be an endless process. It will have to be repeated, ”he said.

The mayor of Sloviansk, Vadim Laykh, reflects the new direction of the city. With his hints from Ukraine’s wartime leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky, the mayor decorated his office with Ukrainian flags, anti-Russian symbols, portraits of national poets – and even a biography of Winston Churchill.

But before 2014, he was part of a political party that wanted closer ties with Russia. Leakh said pro-Moscow attitudes in the city had faded in recent years – partly because of the horrors witnessed in 2014 – still “people are waiting for the return of Russian troops.”

As the front line gets closer, the attack on the city intensifies. Three-quarters of Sloviansk’s pre-war population has fled, but the mayor says there are still many people here, including many children. He encouraged them to leave. He spends his days coordinating humanitarian aid and strengthening the city’s defenses.

What’s more, he was one of the first to respond to the bombing. The Associated Press followed Leach and recently witnessed what authorities described as a cluster bombing in a residential area. One person was killed and several others were injured.

The mayor says there are now at least four or five shots a day and the use of cluster weapons has increased in the past week. While he is optimistic that Ukrainian forces can uproot the enemy, he is also clear-sighted about his options.

“No one wants to be a prisoner. “I have to go when there is an imminent danger of enemy troops entering the city,” he said.

Leach said he couldn’t relax himself for even a few minutes.

“It’s emotionally difficult. You see how people are dying and being harmed. But still, I understand that it’s my job and no one can do it except me and the people around me.”

One morning last week, Leach went to an apartment block where the shootings took place overnight. Most of the windows in the building were blown out, the doors were severely broken and a power line was cut off.

The same building was bombed in 2014, when the shell left an empty hole on the sixth floor and broke the bones of many residents.

Andre, a 37-year-old factory worker who has lived in the building for 20 years, recalls the bombings and the occupation. He said the separatist forces “did and took what they liked.”

People in his circle have different views about Russia.

“Those who suffer will understand what this ‘Russia world’ means: it means broken homes, stolen cars and violence,” he explained. “There are those who miss the Soviet Union, who think we are all one people, and they do not accept what they see with their own eyes.”

He said life in Sloviansk had improved significantly in the eight years since the separatists retreated.

The statue of Vladimir Lenin, once standing in the central courtyard, has been removed. Water and electricity supply have been reformed. New parks, squares and medical facilities were built.

“Civilization was given back to us,” Andre said.

At the Military Distribution Hub, young soldiers speak wisely about their lives before the attack.

“I had a great car, a good job. I was able to travel abroad three times a year,” said the former accountant, who plans to stay in Sloviansk with others to protect the city. “How can we let someone come and take our lives from us?” Can I take it away? “

Khimion’s husband is in the front row, and as soon as the attack began, he took his teenage daughter on a train to Switzerland.

“I’m deprived of everything – a home, a husband, a child – what should I do now?” He asked. “We’re doing everything we can to stop (aggressive), to keep it to a minimum … but to leave this place for fear.”

At the entrance to the city, a monument bearing the name of Sloviansk has been riddled with bullet holes since 2014. It has been painted several times. It now bears the national color of Ukraine and a local artist has painted red flowers around each hole.

Residents of Sloviansk are surprised – some in hope, some in fear – if the sign is soon painted again in red, white and blue of the Russian flag.

Valerie Rezic contributed to this story.

Follow the AP coverage of the war at

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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