By Maria Starkova
(Reuters) – Ukrainians living in the northeastern Kupiansk district close to Russia’s border on Sunday found themselves torn between the will to stay and protect what they have built and the desire to flee from Russian artillery fire.
“If you said the evacuation is going well,” Dmytro Lozhenko, who runs a volunteer group that helps civilians flee the fighting, said on television, “It would sound like a bit of sarcasm.”
Regional authorities announced a mandatory evacuation of civilians from near the Kupiansk front earlier this month due to daily Russian shelling.
The artillery toll on Sunday, Ukraine’s prosecutor general said, began in the morning with an attack on the city of Kupiansk that sent a 45-year-old man to hospital in serious condition.
At 1:20 p.m., the second shelling of the city center injured three civilian men, including an emergency medical assistant, and a 20-year-old woman.
About three hours later, a third round injured a policeman. Homes, cars, garages, a business, a post office, a gas pipeline, and an educational institution were damaged, the prosecutor’s office said.
It said casualty figures were still being clarified, but Oleh Synehubov, the Kharkiv regional governor, said in a post on Telegram that the morning shelling injured 11 civilians, seven of them seriously.
In an interview on Ukrainian television, Lozhenko said about 600 people had been evacuated from the area in the past 10 days, more than 120 of them children.
But what is now a mandatory evacuation, he said, may yet become a forced one, “at least for families with children and for people with reduced mobility, who cannot look after themselves.”
In one village in Kupiansk district, he said, it was only after Russia bombed out almost two entire streets that people started to leave. “The worst thing about evacuation is that people have been living in this war for a long time, and many of them are very used to shelling.”
It was tough to tell people in Kupiansk who had adapted to the situation that they would be safer “in shelters, dormitories in other cities.”
Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians in its invasion of Ukraine, which has killed thousands, uprooted millions, and destroyed cities.
(Reporting by Maria Starkova in Lviv, Ukraine; Writing by Elaine Monaghan in Washington; Editing by Paul Simao)