Svatove is one of the small frontline cities of the eastern region of Luhansk. During the Russian invasion, peaceful protests took place here. Residents had managed to negotiate with the occupiers for them to keep out, at least for a while. But Russian forces quickly changed their minds and overran the entire city.
Caught in the crossfire of the ongoing fighting, Svatove is often targeted by Ukrainian strikes aimed at the occupiers hiding in military warehouses. But residents do not seem afraid. Instead, they seem happy to know that Ukrainian forces are nearby.
On 25 June, they destroyed an ammunition warehouse. “I woke up from a strong explosion. I jumped out of bed and ran almost naked to the basement. I stayed there for several hours until the shells stopped detonating, and it became more or less quiet,” a woman who lived nearby told Geneva Solutions.
She said that no houses were hit and no civilians were hurt. “I can say that our boys [Ukrainian forces] are doing well. They’re doing what needs to be done,” she added.
A month later, on 22 July, Svatove’s the occupiers were hit again by Ukrainian military. This time, they were left without fuel storage.
“Someone said the strike was supposed to hit the military command post next to the railway, where the projectile landed. They say that the LPR (self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic - ed.) anti-missile installations shot down the missile, but I think it was on purpose because there were large fuel containers there. In any case, everything turned out well. None of the locals were hurt,” another resident added.
The locals have also taken it upon themselves to show Russia that it is not welcome in the city. Inscriptions have appeared on buildings and fences saying “glory to Ukraine”, “army is near” or “death to enemies”.
The occupying authorities hung a banner with a z-symbol of war and a pro-Russian slogan. It sagged one night. The following day, there were yellow and blue splotches on the banner for residents to admire.
“Of course, there are those who support the occupiers. Sometimes it seems to me that there are even more of them than real Ukrainians,” said the woman.
“But when I go out into the garden, and hear somewhere the song Pearl, Ukraine! There is only one in the world I believe that this is not the case.”
As prices soar, jobs are scarce
Ordinary inhabitants have nothing to rejoice about in the wake of an unrecognised republic. All promises about cheap products turned out to be fairy tales. According to another resident, prices increased two or three times after the occupation.
“All food products are a luxury for people. Sausage for 300-600 hryvnias/kg (8-16 euros). Can you imagine? Butter, in general, is almost 400 hryvnias per kilogram (10 euros). I can't buy candy for my child because there just isn't enough money,” the woman complained.
Many shops in the city remain shut, so there are few product options. Cafes are also closed.
Finding work has also become a struggle in Svatove. According to a resident, only a few shops and public structures of the so-called Luhansk People's Republic are up and running. Even if those working for the occupying authorities have a job, it doesn’t always guarantee a salary.
“My friend works at a local school. She received a salary of 30,000 rubles (485 euros) for two months. And the director said ‘don't spend everything mindlessly, because it's unclear when they will pay or if they will pay’,” the woman said.
Work is even more strained as people from Severodonetsk, Rubizhne, Lysychansk, and Popasnaya, were brought to Svatove after their homes were bombed.
Disguising reality with singing and dancing
Instead of solving these urgent issues, the occupying authorities are holding concerts and film screenings, depicting what they claim is a beautiful and joyful life in Ukraine’s captured cities. Residents do not want to participate in these events. Children are also sent to summer camps in Russia and occupied Crimea, where they are brainwashed with Russian propaganda.
“I can't imagine how this could be... But fairy tales have a happy ending. And I believe – as do many of my acquaintances and the acquaintances of their acquaintances – that Ukraine will return to the Luhansk region,” said a resident.