Ukraine-Russia Crisis: Live Video and News Updates
SEVERODONETSK, Ukraine — For days, Viktoria Gudyatskaya listened nervously as fighting escalated along the front lines in eastern Ukraine near her home in the town of Novoaidar. The resounding shelling became so insistent that on Tuesday Ms Gudyatskaya decided to take her teenage daughter and flee.
“We can hear it now through our closed windows,” she said from the dilapidated station platform in Severodonetsk, near her hometown, as she and her daughter prepared to board their train. an early morning train to Kiev.
For nearly a decade, violence has defined the lives of residents of this pocket of eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have dug two enclaves and fought a constant skirmish with Ukrainian soldiers from the other side of the line of conflict. But the decision announced by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday night to recognize the two breakaway enclaves as independent republics – and to command Russian troops as “peacemakers” – has suddenly brought new and pressing peril to a region. already tense.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday that Russian troops had entered the breakaway region.
As of Tuesday morning, shelling between separatists and Ukrainian forces continued at various locations along the line of contact, with uncertainty over what the Russians would do forcing remaining residents to decide whether to stay or leave.
As dawn broke over Severodonetsk station, about a dozen people stood on the concrete platform to board the westbound train. It was not yet a scene of panic, but a scene of weary resignation. The mothers had stuffed clothes into plastic trash bags or pulled dirt-stained wheelie bags. They said they were leaving to escape the violence that might come.
For Ms Gudyatskaya, who had already planned to leave, Mr Putin’s angry speech sped up her schedule. She didn’t want to wait to find out just how much of a new fury the Russian president could bring.
“It was like he had taken a big step,” Mr Gudyatskaya said, as she stood with her daughter, Svetlana, 14, who plans to live with a brother in Kyiv “until may the situation be cleared up.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky gave a televised speech at 2 a.m. calling for calm, saying the country would “keep a cool head” in the crisis. But he also said Ukraine would not cede territory. “We are on our own land,” he said. “We are not afraid of anything or anyone. We owe nothing to anyone and will give nothing to anyone.
Hours later, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznkiov warned of “difficult challenges ahead” in an address to military officials on Tuesday morning. “There will be losses,” he said. “We will have to endure pain, overcome fear and despair. But we will definitely win.
From Moscow, Mr Putin had claimed in his speech that Ukraine was “created by Russia” and should be part of it today, suggesting a claim on the whole country. But he was ambiguous on a key question, whether his order to deploy forces to breakaway areas presaged a broader attack on Ukraine. The two enclaves, the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, claim about three times as much territory as they currently control.
If Russia stands by these claims, which extend deep into Ukrainian territory, including the chipped concrete slab railroad platform families were departing from on Tuesday, the Ukrainian government will be forced to acquiesce or face a possible war with Russia.
The territory claimed by the two entities outside the area they currently control is home to around 2.5 million people. A westward flow of displaced people is another possibility, although there was no immediate sign of a large-scale movement on Tuesday morning.
But the escalation of violence is taking a heavy toll. On Monday, just hours before Mr Putin was due to speak from Moscow, a dozen mortars exploded in the village of Vrubivka as terrified residents cowered in basements, capturing their horror on video.
“It’s the fourth or fifth entrant,” said Iryna Yarmolenko, 53, as explosions sounded overhead. “Oh, dear mother, what should I do? He is coming. A lot happens.
With a high-pitched whistle, an explosion and the sound of breaking glass, a mortar then struck near his building. Ms Yarmolenko, who was not injured, shared the recording with a Times reporter.
Outside, the poplar trees lining the nearby street have been decimated, an array of sheared branches, craters and shattered glass.
“What is there to describe? Shots, explosions, plaster falling from the ceiling, the smell of gunpowder,” said Kristina Makarenko, 24, who had also waited in a basement with her two sons, Timur, 7, and Antonio, 2 years old. has passed. They have cockroaches in their heads. They are idiots on both sides, here and there.
In the damp space, with a dirt floor, lit by a bare bulb, the boys were playing video games on their phones. “The ceiling collapsed and we ran to the basement,” Timur said of how his day started on Monday. “We ran and ran.”
The situation was no better on Tuesday. Shelling was fierce in the frontline town of Shchastya, where a coal-fired power plant was hit and burst into flames, sending clouds of smoke. Factory owner DTEK said employees were evacuated to a bomb shelter.
Without electricity, running water or heating, residents fetched water in plastic buckets from a well on the outskirts of town.
“Who could say that isn’t scary?” said Valentina Tsaruk, a 55-year-old pensioner, pulling a bucket of water from the well. “Look at all these negotiations with the Europeans. It did nothing. I think they just abandoned us. That’s what I think.”
She said she didn’t want to live in the Luhansk People’s Republic, but said the explosions and gunshots that rang out every minute or so on the outskirts of the city were a sign she might if soon.
“You live without knowing what will happen tomorrow, or in 10 minutes,” she said.
For Ms Gudyatskaya, standing on the train platform on Tuesday morning, it was no longer a question of where she should run with her daughter – far, west. She directly blamed Mr. Putin for his predicament. “If they had another leader, they wouldn’t do this,” she said of the Russians. “The Russian people are fine.”
His daughter Svetlana, who wore a backpack with rainbow-colored suspenders and said she wanted to be either a car mechanic or a nurse, said she wasn’t as worried than his mother.
“It’s okay,” she said as she boarded the train. “Our guys are going to win. We will defeat Russia and Russia will crumble.
Victoria shook her head. “Faith is always good, Sveta,” she said. “But I’m worried.”
An earlier version of an image caption with this article misidentified the scene. The photo showed residents of the village of Vrubivka registering for help, not people waiting for a train in Severodonetsk.