Local are stocking up on wood because gas supplies have been suspended

Preparing for a harsh winter in the Donbass of Ukraine

Locals stock up on firewood due to gas cut – Copyright AFP ISAAC LAWRENCE

Emmanuel PARIS

In a lush garden between two apartment buildings in Kramatorsk, Alexander Matvievsky cuts dead trees into chips.

Everyone in this part of the city, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) from the front line, knows that the winter will be harsh.

The gas is turned off, the fighting does not stop, soldiers all over the city are preparing for battle.

Residents stock up on firewood for brick stoves installed in front of each house and for their heating stoves.

“We will group together to keep warm… and what will be will be,” Matvievsky said, chainsaw in hand, as artillery fire echoes in the background and air raid sirens wail.

“We used to be friendly, we just got closer,” said the 42-year-old worker.

Gas was turned off in May in the Donetsk region, partly controlled by Russian troops, and in the neighboring occupied Luhansk region after infrastructure was damaged.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for a mandatory evacuation of civilians from the Donetsk region in July, both to avoid hostilities and ahead of the winter season.

“Please evacuate,” Zelensky urged.

– “We stand strong” –

But Olga, 60, said she had no intention of leaving her apartment, despite the recent explosion in the building next door.

Local media reports that some residents were asked to sign a waiver, stating their decision to stay despite warnings.

“I don’t sign anything,” Olga said.

“We will all die here together. If this is one grave for all, then so be it. But we stand strong,” she said, raising her fist in the air.

Having lived in Kramatorsk for 36 years, she has nowhere else to go.

Sitting on a bench in front of her house, surrounded by neighbors and her cat, she said she feared her young grandchildren would struggle during the cold winter.

According to local authorities, about 60,000 of the 220,000 who lived there before the war remained in Kramatorsk.

“We don’t have the resources to heat residential areas,” said Igor Eskov, spokesman for the city council.

But the city has been preparing, including asking a local businessman to provide about a thousand traditional wood-burning stoves to help those left behind.

However, stoves are not suitable for heating numerous apartment buildings in the city.

– “To live with dignity” –

Olga’s cousin, 54-year-old Andrei Kasenkin, chose a different solution.

He has been living in his basement with his family since February, both to protect them from bombing and in the hope that it will keep them warm in the winter.

He said that the basement temperature could be kept at 10 degrees Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) in winter, even when it was minus 10 degrees Celsius outside.

“We live here for now and try not to think about tomorrow,” he said.

“We try to live with dignity. Even in this situation.”

In the town of Slavyansk, closer to the front lines, a local hospital is preparing to install a new heater that can run on waste, coal or wood.

Valentina Glushchenko, director of the hospital, said she was “very concerned”.

“A healthy person can feel comfortable in different conditions, but a sick person needs a certain temperature. They need warmth during treatment.”

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