The first thing that strikes you when entering Kharkiv is that the little traffic here goes the other way.
It is a Ukrainian City largely emptied of life: deserted streets, destroyed buildings and the omnipresent noise of war.
Two days before Russians Overrun, we passed Freedom Square in the hustle and bustle of a thriving metropolis.
This square was hit by a rocket on March 1, destroying a district council building.
The shell of this building is still standing, with jackets in the dressing rooms and charred office furniture strewn about the floor. Many targets are like that – civilians.
While Russian forces have withdrawn from Kyiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, continues to come under heavy shelling.
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Ukraine’s military says Russian troops are trying to advance towards its center – just 20 miles from Russia’s border – but are being held back. That means more shelling and more rocket attacks every day.
A group of volunteers, led by a man known only as Roman, meet us north of the city center to bring much-needed aid to a hardest-hit area – Saltivka.
A northeastern suburb of bombed out buildings, shocked survivors examine their shattered lives and destruction is everywhere. It’s not a place to live at all, but some still live there.
When help arrives, people are defeated. An elderly woman greets us with tears and gratitude.
“Thank you. You were very brave to come here,” she tells the volunteers as she unpacks a van and hands her crackers, biscuits, bread and rice.
Her name is Ludmila Kyrichenko, she will be 75 on May 1st and has spent the last 30 years in Saltivka. She has had no electricity or running water for the past seven weeks.
Before the war, Ludmila lived in the eighth building of a building that is now scarred by the bombing.
Now she survives underground in a place too dignified to call a basement.
It’s dark, damp, the floor dirty, and her bed is made of sleeping bags surrounded by old clothes. His only source of light are the candles, which burn out quickly.
Ihor Mihailchenko, 51, takes us to his neighbor’s house where he recovered parts of the Russian missile that hit their building. He lights a cigarette while standing on a piece of collapsed wall and the hole dug into the ground.
We heard three explosions in an exchange of artillery fire in just 10 minutes. Roman is confused.
“It’s not too much for this place. It’s only morning… [the Russians] wake up and do something,” he said.
As if to prove his point, another attack by a different organization is filmed the same day in another part of Saltivka – this time a rain of rockets. It’s relentless.
“All I want is a peaceful sky,” says Ludmila. “Peaceful skies and fresh bread.”
Everywhere we’ve traveled, people have emerged from their darkness: lonely, pale, and in search of all that Roman has to offer those left behind.
A man takes toothpaste and tells the volunteers that another couple nearby needs help. A stray dog is served a box of meat and jelly.
Before we leave Saltivka, another elderly lady slowly approaches us. “Is the war over? she asks Lyudmila.
Ludmila tells him that’s not the case, but that help has arrived. Ludmila reveals that this woman is 94 years old and has been knocking on her door unanswered for some time.
But then, in an extraordinary moment, Ludmila offers this woman the food she kept for herself.
“I don’t need it,” her neighbor said.
“What do you mean you don’t need it?” is the answer.
Ludmila puts it in her pocket and the two women burst into tears.
She was given food to help her survive and chose to give that food to someone else.
In Saltivka, that humanity is all they have left.
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