Ukrainian New York City Under Russian Assault
Front lines that moved little during the eight-year insurgency in eastern Ukraine have come alive in cities like New York.
NEW YORK, Ukraine: The four-year-old recognized the dull hiss of the Russian artillery shell hurtling towards the Ukrainian city of New York long before his mother had the chance to grab his hand.
“Here’s one,” the boy said matter-of-factly a few long moments before the blast of an exploding building echoed through the small town with the big American name.
Her exhausted 28-year-old mother didn’t even bother to bend down.
Valeria Kolakevych has heard so many shells whizzing overhead in the third month of the Russian offensive that she instinctively knows how far each will land while still in the air.
“It was terrible,” Kolakevych said, wasting no time in his account of a fire that had severely damaged four nearby homes the night before.
“And the most terrible thing was that there was nothing there, just civilians,” she said as another artillery shell blew up something near the end upper hilly street.
The second impact forced her 11-year-old daughter to squeal and cover her ears. The little boy followed his sister’s lead and leaned closer to the ground.
Kolakevych took her children’s hands and walked away as more explosions rang out from fields that once formed the de facto border between government territory and land overseen by Moscow-backed insurgents in the industrial east of the country. ‘Ukraine.
– Shooting from three sides –
The February 24 Russian invasion reignited fighting on fronts that froze once Ukraine’s eight-year-old separatist conflict in the east settled into a dismal stalemate after claiming 14,000 lives.
Russia initially prioritized seizing kyiv and Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv in the north.
Setbacks in both cases forced Russian and pro-Kremlin separatist forces to break through from a southern flank that stretches from Crimea to the destroyed city of Mariupol further east.
This has caused problems in New York – a city of 10,000, mostly Russian-speaking people, which attempted a fresh start last year by dropping its Soviet name Novgorodske and adopting the one first chosen by its German settlers in the 1800s.
Locals say there is no record of how the town got its name. It was changed under the Soviet Union in 1951 and again last year after militant campaigning.
Residents say artillery fire began bombarding New York a month ago and has intensified day by day.
“It’s really bad. There were a few gunshots here and there before but it didn’t really bother us,” seamstress Valentyna Kanebalotskaya said as she moved her things to her daughter’s house in a slightly safer part of town. city.
“But now they are shooting at us from the west, east and south,” the 71-year-old said.
– Abandoned military base –
Ukraine’s deployed forces are sending their biggest guns and toughest units to delay a Russian advance on two important towns in the northeast corner of the front.
But the Ukrainian military presence borders on non-existence within the limits of New York itself.
A naked mannequin stands inexplicably next to the open gate of an abandoned military base filled with sandbags on one of the city’s main roads.
A few desperate soldiers appear to be the main defense in a central plaza that has been shelled repeatedly over the past week.
“You see this crater – a Russian plane did this,” said a soldier who agreed to be identified as Oleksandr, pointing to a gaping hole in the dirt road.
Behind her stood the broken framework of a large factory and a chain of other crumbling buildings comprising the city’s industrial district.
– Chemical danger –
Oleksandr’s main worry is that the Russians might accidentally hit a neighborhood factory that makes a raw material for paints and plastics called phenol.
“It’s a very scary thing. One direct hit and it would react like a chemical weapon,” the 36-year-old soldier said.
“He rolls on the ground and his consequences are very tragic.”
Both sides have accused the other of planning chemical attacks – an accusation that seems at least partially intended to deflect blame in case someone accidentally hits a dangerous site with stray shots.
Yet residents seem more concerned about more immediate issues, such as the lack of running water and gas. Some of the Russian speakers even blame Ukraine for the artillery attacks.
“The Ukrainians come and shoot here from the hills, then leave. And then we are all shelled,” said retired Yelena Valeryanova.
She and many other Russian speakers use patronymics instead of family names when speaking to reporters for fear of reprisals from local Ukrainian officials.
“The Donetsk (separatists) treat us better,” she said.