War in Ukraine The Russian offensive continues to bring desolation to the cities and inhabitants of Donbas

Russia promises to protect the population of Donbas, in eastern Ukraine, but it brings death and desolation to the cities it attacks, displaced residents and soldiers tell EFE, while enemy troops gradually advance towards taking the already destroyed town of Márinka

War in Ukraine The Russian offensive continues to bring desolation to the cities and inhabitants of Donbas

Russia promises to protect the population of Donbas, in eastern Ukraine, but it brings death and desolation to the cities it attacks, displaced residents and soldiers tell EFE, while enemy troops gradually advance towards taking the already destroyed town of Márinka .

Russia has intensified its attack on Márinka in recent days, according to General Oleksandr Tarnavski, in charge of Ukrainian forces there. He refutes claims that the city is already fully controlled by Russia.

In turn, British military intelligence says Russia is likely to have further reduced the small pockets of Ukrainian-controlled territory that remain within the city limits.

According to the DeepStateLive map, run by a group of Ukrainian OSINT (open source intelligence) analysts, Ukraine only controls about 4% of Márinka.

The Russian siege turned the city into ruins a long time ago, soldier Maksim, 30, known by his nom de guerre "Forest," told EFE.

"The Russians methodically destroyed house by house as they advanced," the soldier recalls about the half year he spent there defending the city. "The bombardment did not stop for a minute. At night we were attacked with phosphorus and cluster bombs, and during the day with tanks, mortars, artillery and helicopters," he says.

"Forest" says that the last civilians left several months before their arrival in early 2023. In the destroyed city, which previously had 10,000 inhabitants, not a soul remained, apart from the soldiers.

While Márinka, whose images are reminiscent of post-nuclear devastation, or Mariupol, where around 95% of all buildings were severely damaged, may seem like the most extreme examples, according to the soldier, similar images are found everywhere in Donbass.

"Over time, each city looks more and more like a deserted ruin, destroyed by artillery," says Maksim.

The closer to the front line there are fewer civilians and more holes in houses. Many cities are barely inhabited.

"The city no longer exists," says Irina Kramarenko, 61, a displaced resident of Popasna and member of the legitimate council of Severodonetsk, in the Lugansk region and taken by Russian troops in June 2022.

Popasna already felt the effects of war in 2014, when between 5% and 10% of houses were damaged by bombing. However, no one expected the near-total annihilation that the full-scale Russian invasion brought to the predominantly Russian-speaking city more than a year ago.

It was in March 2022, the day after Kramarenko's sixtieth birthday, when two projectiles hit his spacious home and started a fire. As firefighters could not reach the besieged area, she could only watch as the flames engulfed her.

"We've lost everything," she remembers, fighting back tears. Kramarenko was lucky and was able to leave Popasna with the last evacuation convoy. The bodies of several murdered residents are still buried under the rubble of their destroyed homes, he believes.

The city's 20,000 residents who survived the siege are now scattered across Ukraine and elsewhere. Some have chosen to flee to Russia, Kramarenko says, which came as a shock to her. If Russia had not attacked, Popasna residents with different opinions would have continued to live together peacefully in Ukraine, as they did before the invasion, she believes.

Kramarenko tries to remain optimistic about returning to his hometown. He says other displaced residents share his view. "The older people are afraid of not being able to do it. Many have also died," she says.