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After two years of repelling Russia, Kharkiv faces a barrage of attacks

After two years of repelling Russia, Kharkiv faces a barrage of attacks

It can be difficult to sleep in Kharkiv. The second largest city in Ukraine is now under constant attack, with its residents waking up many nights to the sounds of huge explosions.

Less than 20 miles from the border with Russia, Kharkiv has become known around the world as a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Two years ago, Ukraine expelled Russian forces from the city. But things have changed. Russia bombs the city most days, and last month it launched a massive new attack towards Kharkiv.

Ukrainian officials and residents fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin, unable to seize it, may seek to make the city – once home to 1.5 million people – unlivable.

“They’re trying to get as close as possible so the artillery can hit Kharkiv and push the civilians away trying to make them mentally and physically exhausted and, you know, make Kharkiv more and more empty. And that’s what I’m afraid of,” Roman Kachanov, fire chief at Fire Station 11, said every day. “

But despite the constant attacks, its residents try to continue normal life.

“People live normal lives knowing that every day, somewhere, bombs will hit them and maybe kill them, or maybe not,” Kachanov said. “This is life in Kharkiv.”

Kachanov and his team have been responding to Russian strikes for more than two years. They are tackling fires and rescuing survivors from the rubble, in a relentless battle that has intensified again over the past two months.

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“I think that me and a lot of other Ukrainians who are still here, who are still in Kharkiv, if we think negatively, it will make our situation worse,” Kachanov said. “I try to stay positive.”

Kachanov decided to send his wife and daughter abroad for safety after the massive invasion, and they have remained there ever since.

“A lot of us have been separated from our families, we’ve been through a lot of divorces, a lot of everything,” Kachanov said. Emotionally difficult. It is not difficult emotionally because of the war, because of the dead and wounded. until [we got] Used for this one. Yes. Sometimes you have some things in your head. Maybe you need to talk to the guys over beer. Maybe cry a little.”

Since 2022, seven firefighters have been killed in Kharkiv, and about 50 others have been injured, according to local authorities. Firefighters also say Russian forces often target sites a second time once first responders arrive, a tactic known as “double-tapping.”

Last month, Kachanov suffered a concussion after an explosion in a building where he was struggling to control a fire caused by a Russian raid. He said he also experienced fires dozens of times last year after a second Russian strike.

Attacks often disrupt the work of teachers, coaches and other essential workers. Adapting to it often means having to move life underground. Last month, Kharkiv opened its first purpose-built underground school, located 16 feet underground. For children here, it means they can attend in-person classes for the first time in more than two years.

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“We’ve been doing distance learning for two years, and now our kids can sit at the desk, they can talk to each other, and you can see they’re smiling, they’re happy to be here, they feel safe here.” Olga Gregorach, a teacher at the school, said.

Local volunteer groups also intervened to provide humanitarian assistance and help evacuate civilians from towns and villages closest to the front line. Maria Zaitseva, founder of the Unbreakable Kharkiv charity, distributes humanitarian aid and helps evacuate people from combat zones.

Last month, Zaitseva decided to evacuate her children to Germany.

“I decided this summer that it would be safe for my children to stay with my parents during the holidays,” Zaitseva said. “Because Kharkiv is being destroyed. The strikes are targeting civilian targets, shopping centers and residential areas. It is very dangerous.”

Amid fears of a Russian hack, the Biden administration agreed in June to begin allowing Ukraine to use US weapons to retaliate across the border into Russia.

Residents said this allowed Ukraine to push Russian missile launchers away from Kharkiv, and last week the intensity of shelling in Kharkiv eased significantly.

“Things in Kharkiv are much calmer,” Zaitseva said. “It has become calmer since our international partners allowed Ukraine to strike aircraft inside Russia. We have achieved results – in Kharkiv it was better. It would be better if we were allowed to strike Russian aircraft.”