Yasko’s stay in the train car may be short term. A massive network of volunteers, who have rallied across Ukraine in the wake of the now 10-month conflict, has compiled lists of families willing to take in the growing number of evacuees. But another move offers little comfort to the former nurse, whose future has changed course drastically in her twilight years.
Debaltseve evacuees like her tell horrific stories about survival in the bombed-out city. Almost the entire civilian population is living underground in Soviet-era bomb shelters and apartment building basements to take cover from a barrage of heavy shelling that has been nonstop since mid-January. The fighting has destroyed the city’s infrastructure, and there is no water, power or heat. Some former residents estimate nearly 90 percent of the city has been destroyed.
“There are corpses just lying in the doorways of bombed-out buildings,” Yasko said. “Who’s going to come get them? Who cares about them?”
A Feb. 15 cease-fire brokered in Minsk, Belarus, last week between the Kiev government and the rebels was intended to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine and make space for political dialogue. But within the first few hours, each side was accusing the other of violations.
Most of the violations were in and around Debaltseve, where it is believed several thousand Ukrainian troops are trying to hold their position. Ukrainian officials have declined to give exact troop numbers. Rebel leaders claim they have surrounded them.