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In villages around Bakhmut, civilians refuse to leave homes: photo report

In villages around Bakhmut, civilians refuse to leave homes: photo report

While the world focuses on the struggle between the Russian invaders and the exhausted Ukrainian defenders for control of Bakhmut, another silent but equally deadly struggle is at play in the villages surrounding the city. Photo essay by war photographer Paul Conroy.

Elderly residents, whose villages now resemble military garrisons rather than the once idyllic homes they once were, are refusing to abandon their homes, leaving them directly in the path of a Russian advance should Bakmuht fall.

With little fresh water, food, or electricity, they depend on food supplies brought in by volunteers, but as the military situation deteriorates, their chances of survival diminish accordingly.

Local villagers have established a food parcel distribution center in the ruins of an overgrown house, and daily deliveries of parcels see the elderly and infirm limp to the house, collect their parcels, and then struggle any which way they can back to their homes.

Once the parcel van leaves, the streets are eerily deserted, and the only sounds are of soldiers shifting weapons and supplies in preparation for what is inevitably to follow.

Further on from the villages is a Ukrainian artillery unit, dug in deep and camouflaged from the Russian drones that scour the land for targets.

When it happens, it happens quickly. A message is relayed from the bunker, and the self-propelled gun becomes a hive of activity. Within a minute, a three-round salvo is dispatched at Russian forces closing in on Bakhmut, and then an unsettling silence falls on the gun position.

Weaving our way back to Kramatorsk, the constant shellfire is a reminder that what passes for calm here is an illusion, an illusion that lasts only as long as the Russian guns remain out of range, and that could change any day now.


Entrance to an underground bunker and home to an artillery unit north west of Bakhmut. Photo: Paul Conroy
With all vital amenities now cut, locals must ferry drinking water home using anything at their disposal. Photo: Paul Conroy
Gunners of the Ukrainian army take a break between fire missions in the battle for Bakhmut. Photo: Paul Conroy


Volunteers clear the garden of an overgrown house in the village of Semenivka. The house will be used as a center for food distribution to elderly residents refusing to evacuate the village. Photo: Paul Conroy
An elderly resident who refuses to be evacuated from a village close to Bakhmut collects supplies from a volunteer station. Photo: Paul Conroy
A tired-looking and very young soldier watches on as residents clear away garden waste. Photo: Paul Conroy
A local resident in Semenivka drags her donated food supplies up a muddy hill to await a potential Russian onslaught. Photo: Paul Conroy
An elderly resident who refuses to be evacuated from a village close to Bakhmut collects supplies from a volunteer station. Photo: Paul Conroy
A resident of Semenivka, a village likely to be overrun if the Russians take Bakhmut, collects a food parcel from a center set up by local volunteers. Photo: Paul Conroy
Soldiers defending Bakhmut get a rare bit of rest and recuperation around the city of Kostiantynivka. Photo: Paul Conroy
Our team’s vehicle was trapped in the thick mud while visiting the artillery positions around Bakhmut. Photo: Paul Conroy
An elderly lady pushes her bicycle through the aftermath of Russian shelling just miles from the frontline in Bakhmut, Ukraine. Despite pleas from rescuers, she refuses any help to leave. Photo: Paul Conroy
Gunners from a heavy artillery unit share a joke during a rare pause in fighting around Bakhmut. Photo: Paul Conroy
Interior of Ukrainian gunners bunker. The gunners are giving vital fire support to the Ukrainian army defending Bakhmut. Photo: Paul Conroy




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