Unfazed: Nataliya, the Siversk grocer, who keeps on working despite the shelling

Seversk crouches, and Ukraine moves towards Luhansk

Unperturbed: Natalia, a grocer from Siversk who continues to work despite shelling – Copyright AFP Juan BARRETO

Emmanuel PARIS

“Don’t worry, we’re the ones” firing, said Natalia, a store owner in Siversk, standing relentlessly behind the counter as Ukrainian artillery fired on Russian positions about 10 kilometers away.

But the Russians do not hesitate to return fire, especially at night.

“We didn’t sleep last night,” said Natalia, who opens her shop when the shelling isn’t too close because “people need it.”

“It’s pretty intense,” she said. “In the mornings, when we come out of the cellars, you see the houses on fire.”

Amid weeks of artillery duels, Ukraine says it has advanced eastward from the Donetsk region towards neighboring Luhansk.

On Monday, Sergei Gaidai, the Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region, announced the return of the village of Belogorovka, ten kilometers from Seversk.

But the news has not yet been officially confirmed by the army, and fighting is still going on in a narrow corridor between Russian positions, military sources in Siversk told AFP.

If the capture of Belogorivka is confirmed, it will become an important Ukrainian foothold in Lugansk, which until now has been completely controlled by Russian troops.

“Nothing will stop us”

Back in Siversk, Ukrainian artillerymen rested on their self-propelled howitzer, which they parked under a tree to catch their breath.

“We were shooting all night. We are going to go and reboot and then come back,” one of them explained.

They said they were shelling Russian positions around Lisichansk, a city in the Lugansk region that the Russians took after a long battle in July.

A little further on, the Ukrainian infantry took cover in an abandoned building, heads down so as not to alert the Russians.

“We completed our tasks and did what we were asked to do,” one of their commanders told AFP, without disclosing what those goals were.

There were few people on the deserted streets among the houses destroyed by shells.

But Sergei Medvedev carried water to five elderly women who could not move around, pushing plastic containers in an old baby carriage.

“They feed me to thank me,” he said.

Outside the town, behind Ukrainian lines, another group of infantry camped under trees, keeping out of the way of the artillery duel.

Their commander, who called himself “Valdemar”, was optimistic.

“Our forces pushed them back so hard that we forced them to counter-battery fire,” he said, explaining that the Russians are now concentrating their fire on Ukrainian guns supporting the advancing troops.

“According to what I heard, we forced them to retreat to the Lisichansk Oil Refinery,” he added, suggesting that the Russians there would either have to fight the Ukrainian army or surrender.

“The attack continues and nothing will stop us,” the officer said, adding that his men were “ready to attack.”

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