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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Amid ruins and explosions, some Ukrainians refuse to leave home

 Military personnel during joint military exercises with Russia in Osipovichi, Belarus, Feb. 17, 2022. President Vladimir Putin of Russia said he would be able to position nuclear weapons in Belarus by the summer, a claim that analysts said was likely bluster.   (Emile Ducke/The New York Times)
By Yousur Al-Hlou and Masha Froliak New York Times

AVDIIVKA, Ukraine — When the shelling starts, the people who remain in the devastation of Avdiivka hardly flinch. In truth, the shelling barely stops. In this ravaged town in eastern Ukraine, the thud of Russian artillery reverberates every minute or two.

“Do you hear? It’s flying,” one resident said as a rocket passed overhead. “Then there is a boom,” he added as it detonated.

As Russia wages an offensive across a broad front in eastern Ukraine, in the last few weeks it has intensified its bombardment of Avdiivka and outlying villages, near the Russian-held regional capital, Donetsk. The barrage has left Avdiivka, battered and largely abandoned by residents after a year of war, without power, running water or intact shelter for its civilian holdouts.

Moscow’s monthslong advance has been slow: It has yet to capture any major towns. But it is also devastating, claiming casualties by the tens of thousands and reducing the places in its path to ruins.

On Monday, the Ukrainian government barred civilians from entering the town, citing safety concerns; the top official in Avdiivka, Vitaliy Barabash, called it “like a site from postapocalyptic movies.”

Residential communities were strewn with the ruins of blasted buildings, pavement and vehicles, making streets nearly impassable by car. Schools, health clinics, shopping centers and apartment blocks had been left with gaping holes. Chunks of unexploded ordnance protruded from the streets.

The remaining residents were living in damp, candlelit basements beneath Soviet-era apartment buildings, pervaded by stifling smells, where they had set up beds, makeshift kitchens, bookshelves and small Orthodox shrines. Ukrainian police went from basement to basement, trying to persuade civilians to evacuate.

The longtime focus of the Russian offensive, Bakhmut, lies 34 miles to the northeast, and Moscow has not let up in its assault there, even as fighting escalates elsewhere along the front, officials on both sides said Tuesday. Russian forces have fought for nine months to seize Bakhmut, advancing from three directions and recently taking control of the eastern side of the city, but Ukrainians have held fast on the western side.

The battle there has killed or wounded thousands, and officials on both sides have claimed the carnage has served to wear down its enemy.

Despite the suffering and risks, neither Moscow nor Kyiv has shown serious interest in ending the war, except on terms the other side calls unacceptable.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine has said his country will accept nothing less than the Russians either withdrawing or being expelled from all Ukrainian territory. Stopping the fighting before that, Ukrainian and U.S. officials say, would only cement into place Russia’s illegal gains.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.