Tens of thousands of people lived here before the Russians came. After months of battle, Sieverodonetsk now lies in ruins, with the few remaining residents struggling to survive. The Russian media celebrate the "liberation" of the city.
After more than 60 days of bitter fighting for Sievjerodonetsk, the former city in eastern Ukraine is more dead than alive. 90 percent of the houses were destroyed. Before the war more than 100,000 people lived here, today the city, or what is left of it, has hardly more than 10,000 inhabitants. Even the occupiers concede: After the "liberation" - as the taking of the city is described in the Russian media - Sievjerodonetsk is in a pitiful state.
"Many apartments, many office buildings are irretrievably lost, but that's probably not the worst thing. All of that can be rebuilt," said the ambassador of the self-proclaimed "Luhansk People's Republic" in Russia, Rodion Miroshnik, the state news agency TASS. He noted that there is no water, gas, mobile communications or electricity in Sieverodonetsk. Miroschnik did not say what he thinks is "the worst". From the Russian point of view, Sieverodonetsk is now part of the Russian satellite republic that has existed since 2014.
Sieverodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk were the last Ukrainian bastions in Luhansk Oblast. Now both are in Russian hands. Since then there has been no more fighting here, but shots can occasionally be heard, reports the Ukrainian news portal Novosti Donbassa. The situation has calmed down overall, however, and people dare to go out on the streets again.
For months, the few remaining residents of the city hid in shelters. Since most of the buildings were destroyed, most of them still live in basements. "Part of the house we lived in was destroyed," says Olga Melnyk, a resident of Sieverodonetsk, in a report by the BBC's Russian-language branch. According to her own words, the woman stayed for three months in the basement, which was spared the attacks. About three weeks ago she moved into an office of the fire department. The article shows, among other things, how the woman prepares the food in the middle of a room in an improvised oven over an open fire.
Not everyone in Seyerodonetsk has even a temporary roof over their heads and enough to eat. Food is scarce. According to the report by Novosti Donbassa, they are not regularly delivered to the city. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs described the situation in the city as "catastrophic" with humanitarian assistance being limited if not impossible. People depend on the help of pro-Russian charities. Long lines form in front of the food distribution points.
The head of the city's Ukrainian civil-military administration, Oleksandr Strjuk, also criticized the lack of regular food supplies in an interview with the Ukrainian television channel 1 1. The politician also emphasized that restoring the city's infrastructure is currently "impossible".
The Russians who leveled the city face numerous challenges. Last weekend, the head of the "People's Republic" of Luhansk, Leonid Passechnik, announced that he had founded a new city administration. The separatists have already installed their own mayor. According to Oleksandr Strjuk, one of the first official acts of the new, pro-Russian administration should be a count of the residents, especially the children. "They explain it by saying that such data is needed to organize the educational process, but I don't believe in it," the Ukrainian politician said on TV. "All the schools in the city are in such a state that it is impossible to restore classes. Obviously, the invaders have other goals in this census," the mayor noted, without being more specific. The Ukrainian government has repeatedly accused Russia of kidnapping children to Russia and giving them to Russian families there for forced assimilation.
Stryuk also said that Russia would try to fill the ranks of its own army with the remaining population. "The Russians are hunting people who support Ukraine. Fortunately, the vast majority of them have evacuated," said the head of the city's civil-military administration.
The Ukrainian authorities are therefore advising everyone who stayed in Sievjerodonetsk to leave the city after all - first towards other occupied territories in the east, in order to get to the Ukrainian-controlled areas from there. However, it is questionable whether this route is realistically feasible. Those few Sieverodonetsk who have not fled and survived the fighting may now have to adapt to the new reality.