Bombing intensifies in southern Ukraine frontline town

Residents sit in a volunteer run shelter, providing access to laundry and bathroom facilities where they can warm up, charge their phones, drink hot tea and receive humanitarian aid in the town of Orikhiv, in the Zaporizhzhia region – Copyright AFP/File Aamir QURESHI

Emmanuel PEUCHOT

While having her daily lunch at a canteen in a shelter near Ukraine’s southern front, Galyna Peleshko said Russian bombing has intensified in recent weeks with air strikes and artillery.

The front line lies just seven kilometres from the 71-year-old’s hometown of Orikhiv — a small settlement where only some 1,000 residents remain out of a pre-war population of 15,000.

“I didn’t sleep last night,” Peleshko said, as she finished up a lunch consisting of soup, meat with a side dish and compote.

“After the first explosion I jumped into the corridor and immediately after that there were two more explosions,” she said.

Orikhiv is in a vast plain located around 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the city of Zaporizhzhia.

The front line here has barely moved since the start of Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

The town has been under artillery fire for nearly all of that time but the aerial bombardment started more recently — around three weeks ago.

“Now they are dropping bombs from planes. Just after you hear the sound of the plane, you hear the explosion. If you manage to hide it’s good, you can stay alive, thank God,” Peleshko said.

The shelter, housed in the basement of a local school, is well-organised.

Visitors can get a meal, have a shower, wash clothes, charge phones, use the wifi or just watch television in the warmth.

Some 80 percent of houses in the town have been destroyed or damaged, according to the town hall, whose building was also hit by the bombing.

The town is pockmarked with bomb craters.

“It’s very sad… Sometimes I go to work in the morning and there is a house, I come back after work and the house is not there any more,” said Svitlana Romashko, 54, a volunteer at the shelter.

– ‘Very scary’ –

Deputy mayor Svitlana Mandrych says 40 residents have been killed and 200 injured since the war began.

“We are on the front line, there is no air defence here. We see them and hear them, not just planes but also helicopters. It’s very scary.”

“We are hoping for a counter-offensive so there might be less bombing of our town,” she said.

Ukraine has for months been preparing a spring offensive to take back territory from Russian forces.

Analysts regularly cite these southern areas as potential backdrops to that military push. A breakthrough here would allow Ukrainian forces to divide the land bridge between Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine and the Crimea peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014.

Concerned about an imminent offensive, Moscow-installed officials have announced the partial evacuation of 18 Russian-controlled areas in the Zaporizhzhia region, including Energodar where Europe’s largest nuclear plant is located.

Despite the rising tensions, some contact between the two sides has continued to facilitate the exchange of prisoners and bodies.

These often occur on a bridge in Kamianske, not far from Orikhiv on the banks of the Dnipro River.

In a nearby village, Stepnogirsk, mayor Iryna Kondratyuk said she was sure the offensive was imminent and would be successful.

“We are waiting and hoping that the aggressors will be pushed back at least to the Crimea border.”

Asked when she thought the offensive might start, she replied: “Soon. At least, we hope so”.

Bombing intensifies in southern Ukraine frontline town
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