Fleeing the Russians: Evacuations are slow, arduous, fraught – Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu, Hawaii 2022-05-28 07:05:00 –

Bakhmut, Ukraine >> Civilians are fleeing towns and cities in eastern Ukraine as Russian troops advance to the threatening soundtrack of air raid sirens and fast-growing artillery.

Negotiating the stairs of a narrow apartment, volunteers carry seniors to minibuses waiting in arms, stretchers, or wheelchairs, which move to the central staging area and eventually to evacuation trains in other cities. Move.

“Russians are right there and approaching this place,” said Mark Popert, an American volunteer working with the British charity Refug Ease, during a refuge in the town of Bakumut on Friday. ..

“Currently, Bakumut is a high-risk area,” he said. “We are trying to bring out as many people as possible in case the Ukrainians have to retreat.”

According to Popert, he and other Ukrainian and foreign volunteers working with the Ukrainian charity Vostok SOS, who coordinated evacuation activities, hoped to remove about 100 people from Bakumut on Friday. board.

A few hours ago, a cannon rang and black smoke rose from the northern end of a town in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. The neighborhoods of Donetsk and Luhansk make up Donbus, where Moscow-backed separatists have dominated several territories for eight years.

The process of evacuation is painstaking, physically difficult and emotional.

Many evacuees have elderly, illness, or serious mobility problems. This means volunteers need to bundle them on soft stretchers and slowly walk through narrow corridors and stairs in the apartment.

Most people have already escaped from Bakumut. Only about 30,000 remain from the prewar population of 85,000. And more are leaving every day.

The fighting raged north of Bakumut as Russian troops stepped up efforts to occupy the major eastern cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychans’k, 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast. The two cities are the last in the Luhansk region under Ukrainian control.

Russia-backed rebels said Friday that they had hijacked the town of Lyman, a large rail hub near the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk under Ukrainian control, in northwestern Donetsk Oblast. On Thursday, smoke rising from Slovyansk in the direction of Lyman was clearly visible.

But even when faced with artillery, missiles, and advancing Russian troops, leaving is not easy.

Svetlana Lvova, a 66-year-old manager of two apartments in Bakumut, was indignant and closed when she heard that another of her inhabitants had refused to leave.

“I can’t convince them to go,” she said. “When something landed here, I told them a few times. I took them to the same bus — injured — now I’m here to evacuate them.”

She tried to persuade the holdout in every possible way, she says, but almost 20 people just don’t get upset. They are more afraid to leave their homes and belongings for an uncertain future than to stay in the bomb and face it.

She said she would stay with her husband in Bakumut. But not because they are afraid to leave their property. They are still waiting for their son, who is still in Sibelodnetsk, to return.

“I don’t go anywhere,” she said. “I have to know he’s alive, so I’m here.”

Lvova plays the last video his son sent to her. So he tells her mother that he is fine and that the city still has electricity, but the water is no longer flowing.

“I baked him a big cake,” she said, wiping her tears.

Poppert, an American volunteer, said it was not uncommon to be asked to pick people up for evacuation just because he changed his mind when the van arrived.

“It’s an incredibly difficult decision for these people to leave the only world they know,” he said.

He described a man who evacuated from the only house he had ever known in the late 90’s.

“We were taking this guy out of his world,” Popert said. “He was afraid of bombs and missiles, and he was afraid to leave.”

In nearby Pokrovsk, an ambulance was pulled up and dropped an elderly woman on a stretcher and wheelchair for an evacuation train heading west away from combat. Family members gathered, dragged their suitcases, and carried their pets as they boarded the train.

The train slowly left the station and a woman pulled the curtain back in one of the train’s vehicles. As her familiar landscape slipped down, her face crumpled sadly and her tears began to shed.

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