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Five weeks in a basement: TVP World’s report from Kharkiv

Many residents of Ukraine’s second-largest city have fled the continuous Russian airstrikes which have hit civilian infrastructure, apartment blocks, schools, shops, and hospitals. Those that remained have sought shelter in basements and cellars. TVP World’s Tomasz Grzywaczewski spoke to a group of people who for the last five weeks have been living at a temporary anti-aircraft shelter in the basement of a school on the outskirts of Kharkiv.

Deprived of gas and electricity, around fifty Kharkiv residents living at the makeshift shelter are forced to cook their meals on bonfires. Among them are many elderly and severely ill individuals, who spend all their time underground, in complete darkness and cold. Above, the shelling, missile attacks and airstrikes continue. “One elderly lady asked me what this thing that Russia was liberating them from was. In her own words, it was freedom, their lives, apartments and happiness,” reported Grzywaczewski, adding: “This is what Russian ‘peace’ really looks like,”

Moscow’s forces have been unable to capture Kharkiv, and instead have spent over a month launching indiscriminate attacks in the country’s second-largest city, reducing many structures to rubble. On Thursday, March 31, a Russian missile strike on Kharkiv’s frontline district of Saltivka hit pipes delivering gas to apartments in the district and nearby areas and caused a massive fire that burnt dozens of local shops. As a result, some 34,000 people in Saltivka and neighbouring areas have been cut off from gas supplies, according to local emergency services.

According to the United Nations, at least 1,276 civilians have been killed since Russia launched military operations across Ukraine on February 24, though officials believe the true toll is much higher. The Human Rights Watch reported this week that Russian forces had deployed anti-personnel mines in the Kharkiv region, weapons banned under the 1997 international Mine Ban Treaty, to which Ukraine is a signatory, and Russia is not.

On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the military situation in the country’s east remained extremely difficult, as Russia was preparing for new strikes in the Donbas region and the city of Kharkiv. In a video address, he said Russian troops in the north of the country were pulling back, slowly but noticeably.

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