Ukrainian villagers in jittery fear a major war will begin

NEVELSKE (Ukraine) -- Liudmyla momot weeps as she searches for clothing and household items in the rubble of her house that was destroyed by Russia-backed separatists.

Ukrainian villagers in jittery fear a major war will begin

The rebel-held city Donetsk is located northwest of her village of Nevelske. It is just three kilometers (two mi) from the line where the separatists and Ukrainian military contact. All but five of her residents have been evacuated.

Small arms fire is often heard during the day, and then the booms of mortar shelling and light artillery after dark.

The bloody conflict in Ukraine has been going on for seven years. There are concerns that Russia could build up its armed forces along the border with Ukraine, threatening to lead to an invasion of Russia or the resumption full-scale hostilities.

Nevelske was shelled twice by rebels in the last month. 16 of its 50 houses were destroyed or damaged, and the few remaining residents were rattled.

Momot, 68, said that the worse Ukraine-Russia relations, the more suffering we are all in. She has been working on a dairy farm her entire life.

Without a home, who could have envisioned that? I was getting ready for winter by stocking up on coal and firewood.

Momot fled her home after the shell struck her house. Her son lives in a nearby settlement. However, her anxiety has continued to follow her.

"We fear that there will be a major war. People are afraid and have packed their bags," Momot said, adding that he had collected blankets, warm clothes, and other items from the rubble.

In April 2014, the conflict in the Donbas, an eastern industrial heartland, erupted after Russia annexed Crimea Peninsula in response to the removal of Ukraine's Moscow-friendly ex-president. The West and Ukraine accuse Russia of providing weapons and troops to the rebels, while Moscow claims that the Russians who participated in the fighting were not paid but volunteers.

Over 14,000 people were killed in fighting which has driven 2 million people from their east-facing homes.

Nevelske was home to 286 people at the time of the conflict. The five remaining older residents of the ruined village now collect rainwater to drink and cook. They eat stale bread in between humanitarian aid shipments.

"We have become accustomed to the Shelling," Halyna Moroka (84), who has remained in Nevelske along with her disabled son.

France and Germany brokered a 2015 peace deal that ended large-scale fighting, but skirmishes continue. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors the fragile cease-fire, reported an increase in such incidents. Both sides were blamed for violating truces.

Mikko Kinnune (OSCE representative for the group that includes representatives from Russia, Ukraine and rebels), stated earlier this month, "The security situation along a contact line is still of concern. With a high level ofkinetic activity."

Washington and its allies warned Moscow about the high economic cost of an attack on Ukraine, despite Russia's recent troop buildup. Moscow denied having such intentions, accusing Ukraine of plotting to reclaim rebel-held territory. Kyiv rejected this accusation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked the West for guarantees that NATO will not expand to include Ukraine and deploy its forces and weapons there. He called that a "redline" for Moscow. Although the U.S. and its allies refused to make such a promise, President Joe Biden and Putin agreed last week to meet to discuss Russian concerns.

Nevelske is a village that has limited power. This allows its residents to see Russian television news.

Kateryna Shklyar (75 years old) exclaimed, "We don’t want war!" She shares her fears and anxieties with Dmytro, her husband. Their daughter and their grandchildren reside in Krasnohorivka (a Ukrainian-controlled suburb west of Donetsk).

Shklyar asked, "How long will this torment continue?" It has ravaged our hearts and souls. It is not possible to call it life, but we don't have anywhere else."

Nevelske and neighboring villages are provided with basic supplies by humanitarian groups. They also offer housing in safer locations, but their resources can be limited.

Moroka said, "I just survive each morning, trying to get it to the evening. And my soul aches." Moroka has lost sight in one eye, but cannot receive any medical attention.

She added, "We are scared." It's scary to wait for death and sit there. It's horrible!"

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