Ukraine Stories #Week18: Kharkiv and the region are being mercilessly shelled

Russian tank. (Credit: The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine / Facebook)

In this live blog, at the heart of our project we’ve called “Ukraine Stories”, Ukrainian and Russian journalists write about the harsh living conditions that the Russian invasion has inflicted on them. We cannot always verify the events described in their articles, but their short reports and feature stories describe two countries in the turmoil of war. This blog is also available in Ukrainian and Russian.

Kharkiv and the region are being mercilessly shelled. Putin is preparing a new offensive

Consequences of the attack on the city of Chuhuiv on June 21. (Credit: Office of the Attorney General)

By Stanislav Kibalnyk

June 22 is a sad date for Ukraine. On that day in 1941, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and Ukrainian cities became one of the first targets. Today, Ukrainians see many analogies with World War II.

According to the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, Russians will once again try to seize Kharkiv. Our correspondent Stanislav Kibalnyk recounts the last few days in Ukraine’s second largest city and its suburbs, which were particularly devastating and bloody.

On 19 June, a Russian missile struck the courtyard of the Kharkiv State Veterinary Academy. On the night of 20 June, two more rockets completely destroyed a vocational school which had become a humanitarian hub. The next night, half of a school and the train depot in Saltivskyi were destroyed. Three people were killed and seven were injured following these attacks.

The results of the shelling of the Kharkiv subway depot. (Photo: Kharkiv Region Police)

After a dozens of shelling on residential areas on 21 June, 5 people were killed and 11 were injured. A column of black smoke was visible across the city. One of the victims was Raisa Kozakova, a 85 year old woman who had survived World War II.

On the same day, an eight-year-old girl was killed and her mother was injured in the suburbs. In the evening, in the city of Chuhuiv 40 km southeast of Kharkiv, 6 civilians were killed in shelling which also injured  four other people Three fires broke out at once. The village of Zolochiv in the north of Kharkiv was also shelled and three people were found dead under the rubble - a man and two women. The next day, a two-story house was destroyed by a missile strike. Once again, the body of the deceased was retrieved from the rubble.

At night, houses were destroyed in Chuhuiv causing two dead and two injured. A new blow in the morning claimed at least one more life and wounded another civilian. The city of Chuhuiv has had the largest number of civilian killings since the beginning of the war.

A word from our editors

11:30 hrs., 23.06.2022

Day 119 of Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine. Since the 19 June, according to the latest UK ministry of defence report, Russian forces have “highly likely” advanced over 5km towards the southern approaches of the Donbas city of Lysychansk:

“Some Ukrainian units have withdrawn, probably to avoid being encircled. Russia’s improved performance in this sector is likely a result of recent unit reinforcement and heavy concentration of fire.

Russian forces are putting the Lysychansk-Sieverodonetsk pocket under increasing pressure with this creeping advance around the fringes of the built-up area. However, its efforts to achieve a deeper encirclement to take western Donetsk Oblast remain stalled.”

According to the combined report from the military-civil administrations across Ukraine, published by the Ukrinform news agency, almost a hundred artillery strikes by Russia have been recorded over the past 24 hours in the Sumy region.

In the Dnipropetrovsk region, Russian invaders again fired on the Kryvyi Rih. The city is partially without light and water. Streets and courtyards are littered with cluster munitions.

At the same time, the night passed relatively calmly in Volyn, Zakarpattia, Rivne, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, Lviv, Odesa, Zaporizhia, Ternopil, Kirovohrad, Cherkasy, Poltava, Kyiv and Zhytomyr regions.

In Luhansk, salaries are paid in buckwheat and sausages

By Ksenia Novitska, Ukrainian journalist

For the past four months, the town of Starobilsk in the Luhansk region has been under Russian occupation and conditions are deteriorating.

The new government is no longer able to pay the employees. Instead, in some kindergartens, wages are paid in buckwheat, sugar and stew. In the Starobilsk prison, they pay in sausages. Even citizens who collaborated with the occupiers and are in the good graces of the new government aren’t paid.

The self-proclaimed republic has set up an extremely unfavourable exchange rate for the Ukrainian hryvnia against the rouble. Ukrainian ATMs no longer work, and those who wish to withdraw hryvnias from their bank account must pay a 20-40% feeto local "barons". There will soon be no more cash.

The occupiers have also just completed the construction of the railway that now links Starobilsk to Russia. It will be used to  export the massive production of grain produced in the occupied region. Some people fear that there will soon be a shortage of flour and bread in the city. On 10 June, a first convoy of 900 tonnes of grain travelled to Rostov-on-Don, 300 km south of Starobilsk.

School history textbooks rewritten in Russia

Since the beginning of March, Russian schools and universities have been receiving instruction manuals on how to explain the war to students. Propaganda continues to intensify: in the next academic year, schools will introduce a weekly flag raising ceremony and officials want to rewrite history textbooks.

Cherta, an independent Russian media, talked to teachers and experts about how the war with Ukraine affected the education system. “We had to take a photo in class to prove the lesson was given. It was horrific. Children had to be told about the 'special operation against the Nazis' and the fact that the Ukrainian nation doesn’t exist,” says Alexei (name changed), a teacher in a rural school in Udmurtia region, 1200 km east from Moscow. According to him, the person in charge of  the school's social media pages, posts “monotonous content with propaganda and militancy”

According to Daniel Ken, head of the Teachers' Alliance union, following the propaganda’s instructions isn’t necessary because it isn’t part of the education programme. It all depends on the level of oversight by officials and school administrators. Ken believes that propaganda isn't as effective on children from big cities and families in higher social classes, but that it can  work on younger pupils.

An openly anti-war stance can lead to dismissal, administrative prosecution and even criminal charges. One of the first victims of anti-war statements was English teacher Irina Gen from Penza, 570 km southeast of Moscow. One of her pupils told her parents about the teacher’s  anti-war stance, and they wrote a denunciation.

A word from our editors

11:30 hrs., 22.06.2022

Day 119 of Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine. The Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has destroyed two Russian ammunition warehouses, two unmanned aerial vehicles, one X-59 tactical missile, and 10 armoured vehicles in the Kyiv and Donetsk regions. This is according to the command’s press service.

According to the combined report from the military-civil administrations across Ukraine, published by the Ukrinform news agency, overnight there were shelling attacks in the Chernihiv, Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions. The three regions have not reported any human casualties yet, albeit some injuries were sustained. In the Kharkiv region, heavy fighting over the last 24 hours led to the killing of 15 people and injuring of 16 people.

The Luhansk and Donetsk regions remain under heavy attacks. Twenty-eight houses were destroyed in just three villages of the Luhansk region over the last 24 hours. Donetsk region’s Avdiivka, Zalizne, Kurakhove, Toretsk. Kurdiumovka. New York, Ivanopillia, Novoselivka-1, Fedorivka, and Khrestysche are all being shelled. These shelling attacks have led to 39 damaged objects (including residential buildings and a school), one death, and 15 injuries.

The situation in the Kherson region continues to be tense, according to the report. Pressure is being put on healthcare and education workers. Activists, politicians, and journalists continue to disappear in the area.

Russia also shelled Esman and Nova Sloboda communities in the Sumy region using mortar fire, the consequences of which are yet to be reported.

Our first blog entry is about Kosovo’s support for Ukraine.

Kosovo supports Ukrainians in fighting Russian propaganda

Capture d’écran 2022-06-21 à 18.00.07.png
by Liudmyla Makei, 22.06.2022

Kosovans had to deal with Russian propaganda at the end of the 1990s. In the 20-odd years since, they have taken action to counter media narratives that undermine their sovereignty. Now they want to support Ukrainians in doing the same. Six media which broadcasted Russian propaganda were blocked in Kosovo according to the announcement at the “Foreign Influence on the Media in Kosovo” conference, held on 9 June.

Journalists and representatives of state institutions in Kosovo and Ukraine met to discuss ways to weaken Russia's information influence, which has intensified significantly since the start of the war.

Read the full article by our Ukrainian correspondent Liudmyla Makei, who recently evacuated to Pristina.

A word from our editors

13:30 hrs., 21.06.2022

Day 118 of Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine. The country continues to hold defence against the Russian occupiers. The biggest battles are happening near Severodonetsk and Bakhmut in the Donbas. Russia is using aviation to achieve its goals. Heavy fighting continues in Severodonetsk of the Luhansk region.

The National Guard of Ukraine has published this video showing a fragment of the Severodonetsk battle:

According to the head of the Luhansk region’s military administration, Serhiy Hayday, the Severodonetsk has now expanded to the city’s industrial zone.

“It’s a very complicated situation,” he said. “[The Russians] have started an all-out offence in the region. They have gathered enough resources for that. Today (on 20 June -ed.) all the towns and villages of the region are being shelled.”

Hayday said that it is impossible to determine how many casualties there are as a result of the offence.

Late last week, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that this week would be “historic” for Ukraine and it truly is proving to be so. The Ukrainian Parliament has ratified the Istanbul Convention that prevents domestic violence.

According to Amnesty International, the Istanbul Convention is “the most far-reaching international treaty” specifically designed to tackle violence against women and domestic violence.

Women's rights protest in Ukraine. (Credit: @marshzhinok / Twitter)
“It sets out minimum standards for governments in Europe on prevention, protection, and prosecution of violence against women and domestic violence,” Amnesty International wrote.

Our first blog entry is about the protests organised by the women of the Donbas.

Women in the occupied territories of Donbas continue to protest

Screenshot from the video \"Wives' Rebellion. Mobilization of Men” from the Activatica channel
by Stanislav Kibalnyk, 16.06.2022

The wives of the men forcibly mobilised in the ranks of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) “People’s Militia” demand an explanation on the whereabouts of 200 fighters. “We don’t have information about our husbands since four months,” said one of the protesters in a video message. Families didn’t receive compensation during this time.

“According to what we were told, they should’ve been back on 6 June. But they never arrived. Only one company came back and the military unit refuses to tell us where the others are,” said one of the protesters. Half of them were disabled before their departure. "No medical commission or oath was organised” the protesters emphasise. Women gathered  outside one of the military units’ building, appealed to various “ministries” and “agencies” of the self-proclaimed republic, but were ignored everywhere. “‘200 people are a needle in a haystack’ someone told  us!”, recalls one woman.The group plans to write a complaint to Vladimir Putin but isn’t convinced he will be interested in their problems.

70% of the Donetsk infantry was killed

The mobilised men are probably lying dead somewhere on the outskirts of Kharkiv or Mariupol. Igor Girkin—a Russian commander who led separatists in the Donbas in 2014 but is now opposed to Putin— said last week that 70% of the Donetsk infantry was killed in the fighting. He also said that the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) soldiers were sent to fight without any training or proper equipment.

As for the medical students from Donetsk, they were sent to Mariupol, not as paramedics, but as ordinary military. Most of them died. They were led by Roman Kutuzov, a General in the Russian army who was killed on 5 june by Ukrainian troops. A person living in the occupied Donetsk region, where many men were forced to fight against Ukraine, anonymously commented for Geneva Solutions: “I do not see any reason not to believe Girkin, he is a very knowledgeable person. The Russian blogger Murz, who is currently fighting on the frontline also wrote that both the ‘People’s Militia of DPR’ and the ‘People’s Militia of LPR’ mostly died in the first few weeks of the war, if not in the first days”.

A word from our editors

12:30 hrs., 20.06.2022

Julia Paevska in 2018. (Credit: Julia Paevska / Facebook)
Day 117 of Russia’s all-out aggression against Ukraine. It also marks the start of a week referred to as “historic” by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“One of the most important [weeks] since 1991,” Zelenskyy said in a video address. “This week we’ll hear a verdict from the European Union on whether to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine. This week we’re also expecting enhanced attacks from Russia. These will be done deliberately, for demonstrative purposes. And the attacks would not just be against Ukraine but also against Europe. We are getting prepared. We are warning our partners. And we are grateful to all those who show strength, which will grow into a victory in the future.”

The end of the last week brought us the news of the freeing of paramedic Julia Paevska (Taira) from Russian captivity and the ban on Russian music in the Ukrainian media and public spaces.

But the current week began with the news of new shelling attacks and bombings across Ukraine, according to a combined statement from the military-civil administrations provided by Ukrinform news site. As a result of these attacks, buildings were damaged in the Dnipropetrovsk and Mykolaiv regions. One person was killed after a shelling attack in Ochakiv.

The situation in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions continues to be complicated. The head of the Luhansk region’s military administration Serhiy Hayday said that the Ukrainian army lost control over the Metiolkine settlement near Severodonetsk. Russia has also intensified its shelling of the Luhansk region overall.

According to the combined statement, the Russian army is destroying the remaining infrastructure in the Luhansk region.

Many villages and towns of the Donetsk region have been shelled – however, without any reported casualties so far. The Kherson region is continuing to see a “consistently difficult” situation in the Beryslav and Kakhovka districts. Many residential buildings have been damaged and a lot of the infrastructure has been mined, the report said.

The city of Kharkiv has seen enhanced shelling, too. No casualties have been reported as a result of that.