How Kharkiv lives under constant Russian attacks — NV report

Shevchenko Park in Kharkiv
Shevchenko Park in Kharkiv

Although Kharkiv residents were worried on the eve of Russia’s May 10 offensive in the region’s north, they didn’t really believe the enemy would have much success.

People reassured themselves that the city is too big to capture, and the Russians will need a lot of resources and time for this, so what’s happening on the border is rather designed to distract Ukrainian forces. Meanwhile, attacks on the regional capital became more frequent and brutal.

It’s just 40 kilometers from Kharkiv City to the Russian border. According to the city hall, about 1.3 million people currently live in Kharkiv. NV journalist Ilona Makedon explored the mood in the frontline city.

To destroy Ukrainian culture

Over 50,000 books were burned in a Russian missile strike on the Factor-Druk printing house (owned by publisher Vivat) on May 23. A workshop with expensive equipment, which printed books for over a dozen Ukrainian publishing houses, was completely destroyed.

“The country needs books and textbooks. The country is seeing a lack of printing opportunities with the destruction of the printing house. I believe Russia is trying to destroy our cultural and educational realms, destroy our culture, and stop the development of the Ukrainian nation in general. This is a very painful moment,” says Yulia Orlova, CEO of Vivat.

Seven people were killed in the attack, nine remain in intensive care, another 13 sustained minor injuries. The four workers who were at the epicenter of the explosion were virtually obliterated; their identity could only be established through DNA testing, Orlova added.

These days, Vivat was printing books for Ukraine’s main publishing event — the Book Arsenal (annual literary festival).

“Unfortunately, now we won’t be able to be properly represented at Arsenal. We’ll present what we have,” she adds.

Read also: Russian airstrikes target Kharkiv with ‘carousel’ bombing tactic

Attack on school sporting grounds

A Russian missile hit a high school sporting grounds in Kharkiv’s Saltivka district on May 8. No classes were taking place at that time since all Kharkiv educational institutions work remotely nowadays. But the site is in the middle of a residential area, between apartment buildings, so there were children playing on the field.

Impact site <span class="copyright">NV</span>
Impact site NV

Three teenagers were seriously injured.

“I have the front part of the S-300 missile, which almost never ‘survives.’ And once, I remember, I pulled out a cluster bomb with my bare hands. But this is not the worst thing, it was scary when we volunteered in Tsyrkuny [a village five kilometers from the city’s northeastern outskirts]. We distributed food, helped with the digging where the military needed it... Many of my [older] acquaintances, with whom we volunteered at the beginning of the war, joined the army and have already been killed,” 14-year-old Denys (name changed) tells us near the missile impact site.

After law enforcement finished their work at the location, residents of nearby houses brought water, brooms, and started clearing the area. They had to wash away the children’s blood.

<span class="copyright">Ілона Македон / NV</span>
Ілона Македон / NV

Read also: Russia increases troops in Kharkiv, but full-scale offensive unlikely — Ukraine's top General

Looming threat

Recently, Kharkiv residents are dealing with not only air strikes, but also with Russia’s intentions to seize the city.

“Kharkiv is a very big city. If the Russians need half a year to capture a small town, it will take them several years to capture Kharkiv. It won’t happen in one second. They’ll need to occupy Kupyansk and other towns before trying to enter Kharkiv,” says Alyona, a business analyst who lives in Kharkiv with her husband and two daughters.

However, the recent enemy breakthrough in the region’s north made the family nervous. They know if the Russians advance further south, they’ll start shelling Kharkiv with artillery.

“We always have an evacuation plan, packed things and constantly monitor the situation. We would prefer to stay, just like most of our relatives. The news about the halt of the offensive has calmed us down. But there’s still the ‘fog of war,’ so we cannot relax. If Russia starts shelling the city with artillery, we’ll leave,” says Alyona.

Alyona and her daughter <span class="copyright">NV</span>
Alyona and her daughter NV

Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov didn’t show much concern when the news about the northern breakthrough appeared.

“If there’s a breakthrough, we’ll contain it,” he said. “We’ve already had breakthroughs. They entered and left before.”

Rationality, not panic, is the prevailing mood in Kharkiv.

“I looked through various materials about how the occupation of Kharkiv took place during WWII. It’s not as easy to occupy as it seems. Large resources, both human and technical, must be used for this. When the Germans tried to attack the city directly, from Kyiv and Poltava, they failed. They tried to do it twice, many of their people were killed, but they failed. That was then, and now the enemy’s plans are even more obvious,” says taxi driver Yevhen.

Meanwhile, official figures for Kharkiv Oblast don’t record a large outflow of people due to the recent Russian offensive.

Read also: Four injured as Russia causes significant damage to critical infrastructure in overnight strike on Kharkiv

Outdoor leisure, rolling blackouts, and underground schooling

After the Zmiivska TPP and CHP-5 power plants were destroyed, Kharkiv Oblast not only lost all its own power generation, but also has limited capacity to receive electricity from the rest of Ukraine, because transmission networks are also damaged, Synehubov explains. The industry works mainly at night. Local authorities are betting on decentralization of electricity, water, and heating supply. These measures include, among other things, drilling water wells, installing small generators, batteries, gas-piston mini-CHPs, modular boiler houses, etc. The deadline is the coming winter.

Oleh Synehubov <span class="copyright">NV</span>
Oleh Synehubov NV

Many utility workers can be seen on Kharkiv streets. Garbage trucks rumble from early morning till late night. Something is constantly being painted, cleaned, and repaired.

Public transit in the city, including metro, trams, and some bus routes, is free for everyone. Every district has a hub where anyone can get a free lunch every day.

“Every day we feed 41,000 people for free,” says mayor Terekhov.

Some 2,200 children study at five metro stations, in underground passages converted into school classrooms. In addition, the city opened two underground schools in anti-radiation shelters.

Schooling in metro stations <span class="copyright">NV</span>
Schooling in metro stations NV
Typical Kharkiv façade <span class="copyright">NV</span>
Typical Kharkiv façade NV

City services promptly clear rubble from missile attacks, doing emergency repairs on damaged houses. When they lack resources, volunteers come to help. However, a typical sight on Kharkiv’s streets are endless rows of plywood-covered windows.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine