Ukraine: Solidar, on the front line, only wants “peace and silence”

Dre Solidar, not much left. Church, food store and store in the basement. So close to the front, a mining town in eastern Ukraine, where a few thousand lives still survive, has been relentlessly bombarded for more than three months.

The sound of explosions at regular intervals shattered the ghostly atmosphere.

Solidar, the “gift of salt,” takes its name from the large salt mine located at its entrance. The mine, operated by the Ukrainian company Artemsol, which extracts millions of tons each year, was also a tourist site, due to the “fantasy salt sculptures” promoted in tourist brochures.

The city, which had a population of about 15,000 before the war, was also known for its underground sanatorium that treats lung diseases.

That was before the invasion. Before finding themselves in the way of the Russian troops who want to capture the Donetsk region.

Today, the mine, which was hit several times, is closed. The residents fled, and according to estimates by a few of the rare people who crossed the city, no more than 2,000 people should remain in the ghost town, left to their own devices.

Buildings along Main Street were half destroyed or blackened by smoke. The cultural center is completely destroyed. In the ruins, still smelling of smoke, we see scattered papers, a phone hanging on a desk.

“It happened on the night of July 9-10, that night, about a dozen missiles landed on Solidar,” recalls exactly Titiana, a woman passing with her 5-year-old daughter and 67-year-old mother. The large building burned for several days, due to the lack of firefighters to put out the flames.

“There are no more authorities, police, doctors or pharmacies. Everyone has left. We have been abandoned,” continues Tetiana.

“My husband and my cat”

Like an apparition, an elegant lady with short white hair appears on a deserted street, accompanied by five cats. Lyudmila, smiling and frightened, explains that her disabled husband cannot move.

“And then there are the abandoned cats, I can’t let them go,” the former teacher explains, heading to one of the last food stores open in town. It is provided by volunteers who come twice a week, braving gunfire and bombs.

Below the store, in the basement, a large hardware store now serves as the meeting point. People come here to buy gas cylinders, nails, and also crockery or linen. It’s one of the few places where you can feel a little safe and connect with your fellow human beings.

Yuri, 59, has a long gray ponytail under his hat, overalls, leaning his cane behind his desk. Despite everything, his gaze still flashed: “If I let myself get depressed, it’s not good for my old bones.”

But the man is grim as soon as he conjures up his two grandchildren, ages 8 and 12, still in Solidarity. What do they do in their days? “They are creating stress,” sighs Grandfather, who tries to keep them occupied by making a makeshift fireplace with them with zinc plates, “to get them ready for winter.”

As is the case everywhere in the cities of the Ukrainian Eastern Front, those who remained could not or did not want to evacuate.

Leaning on her balcony, a former bank employee, Larissa, challenges reporters. She repeats, “We just want to stay home! We’re not separatists! Write the command: We’re not separatists.”

Regional authorities regularly urge residents to evacuate, and those remaining are often seen as pro-Russian as they await the arrival of troops from Moscow.

But Lia Tcherkachyna, 84, doesn’t care about Russians or Ukrainians. The old lady is sitting in front of her house begging us to go and fill her five bottles into the still working water pump. Yesterday a man promised to bring her water in exchange for a bottle of vodka that she did not have.

From her balcony, Larisa let out one last cry: “We only want peace. And silence.”

07/26/2022 08:35:56 – Solidar (Ukraine) (AFP) – © 2022 AFP

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