Leaning in her garden, the frail, hesitant silhouette of Galyna contrasts with the powerful armored vehicles which pass with a racket in front of her home, in Chassiv Iar, in eastern Ukraine.
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“I love gardening, you know…”: at 69, the old lady is inexhaustible and her little azure eyes shine on her wrinkled face when we approach her passion.
“Last year I had amazing tomatoes here, even watermelons, small ones, but it’s a treat, trust me! “, she continues.
Her town, where she has resided for 38 years, is the first west of Bakhmout, a town defended for months by the Ukrainians and which Russian forces and the paramilitary group Wagner are trying to conquer.
Already regularly bombarded, Chassiv Iar – 13,000 inhabitants before the war – could be the next target of the Moscow army if ever Bakhmout were to fall.
Galyna’s garden is an unmarked patch of land at the back of her three-storey apartment building, where she lives in a first-floor apartment with her disabled son, in his 40s.
Just ahead passes a road taken at full speed by Ukrainian armored vehicles and tanks heading towards the front lines and Bakhmout, or returning from them.
Photo Aris Messinis / AFP
“A smaller shovel”
Nearby, the crash of cannon or mortar fire spitting their shells towards the Russian positions continues to resonate in the city.
Not enough to disturb Galyna whose garden has become an outlet.
“When I realized the war had started, I brought violets here, and many kinds of flowers. They grow in the forest, so I grow them here so I don’t miss them. I feel happy every time I look at them, ”says the almost septuagenarian.
Dressed in an elegant mottled gray coat buttoned up to the neck, colorful leggings and furry boots, the little lady is upset.
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“I just need a smaller shovel to dig the ground for my flower seeds,” she says, pointing to her bulky tool almost as tall as she is.
She also regrets not having “a lot of time to garden. I have to take care of my neighbor, she is 93 years old, as my mother would have had. I bring him water, bread too”.
Few of the inhabitants have stayed in his district, designed with old-fashioned buildings dating from the Soviet era.
The roofs of some nearby buildings are gutted, stigmata of Russian strikes.
Photo Aris Messinis / AFP
“I’m not shaking”
“There, you see, a bomb hit him,” Galyna said, pointing to a building. Two of her neighbors lived there, the authorities moved them “to another house, because it was no longer possible to live there, there was no longer a roof”, she explains.
Widowed since 1994, she says she is staying in Chassiv Iar to take care of her son.
“One day, my son went to the humanitarian aid centre. And there his friend was injured (by shrapnel), an ambulance arrived and they treated him. This scared my son very much. He used to charge his phone there, but now he doesn’t,” says Galyna.
She also has a daughter, who lives in Germany, is married and has three children.
“When there was a telephone network, we could communicate. About a month ago, I think, she was saying + I wish you could come here, to our place +… I think I’ll stay here, ”she says, thoughtfully.
Suddenly a shell whistled then exploded a few hundred meters to the east of the city. ” There’s nothing to be scared of. You see, I’m not shaking, I’m used to it, ”she says with a small smile.
Two other shells will follow towards the same place, destroying and causing the fire of three houses.
“I hope to stay safe. God saves. Here (in the garden), I feel an angel saying ‘Don’t go’, but I’m going anyway,” says Galyna.