Surviving in Bajmut: without electricity, without gas and now also without water

Surviving in Bajmut: without electricity, without gas and now also without water


The firemen distribute water and the inhabitants take it from where they can in the street

Civilians wait to be evacuated from Bakhmut
Civilians wait to be evacuated from BakhmutAnatoly StepanovAFP
  • Straight War Ukraine – Russia, last minute

Valentina and her daughter Natalia ran out of gas when fighting broke out in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut (east), where shelling then destroyed power lines. In August they no longer had water, and the untenable situation forced them to leave.

The battle for control of this city in the Donetsk region is one of the longest and most devastating of the war in Ukraine. When the fighting intensified, the two women had no choice but to replace gas and electricity with firewood and coal.

But when it became impossible to procure water from their neighborhood well due to fighting, they set out on the perilous journey across the Bakhmutovka River to escape the besieged city.

“A week ago it was still possible to live there, but not anymore”says Natalia, 52, who, together with her 73-year-old mother, is waiting to be evacuated from a humanitarian aid center, along with 8,000 other Bakhmut inhabitants.

The city, which had a prewar population of 70,000, had struggled to safeguard its water supply since March, when shelling hit a canal, the main water supply, and two wells. But their efforts were thwarted by intensified shelling.

“Now it is the volunteers who supply the city with drinking water,” the head of Bakhmut’s military administration, Oleksandr Marchenko, told AFP. Last week, jerry cans were distributed to residents at a humanitarian aid center. Firefighters also deliver water, and in addition to the few private wells, residents collect water from wherever they can on the street, according to Marchenko.

It is a less risky solution than the river, which divides the city in two and is one of the front lines. Svitlana, 38, her husband and their five-year-old son have crossed a dilapidated bridge under heavy shelling several times in search of water, only 36 liters of which they have been able to bring back.

“We haven’t had water since the war began,” says the woman, as she watches her son play in the shelter opened by the Unidad del Pueblo organization in what used to be a sports center.

“I dream of taking a shower,” says Svitlana, who has been washing herself with wet wipes for months. Volunteers dig a well in front of the building that houses the center. It also plans to install showers and washing machines.

Ruslan Khublo, 33, studied engineering and responded to a message posted on Instagram to participate in the project. During a recent AFP visit, shelling hit the neighborhood, killing at least one person.

But this young man, whose city, Olenivka, is occupied by Russian forces, does not give up. “We don’t know if they will be able to take Bakhmut or not, but the people who live here need help,” he says. “There are people who have not been able to bathe for two months.”

A 500 liter tanker truckFilled daily by volunteers or firefighters, it has become a crucial water distributor for humanitarian and medical centers.

But this system is at its limit, since the firefighters have to fill the tanks of their trucks not only to supply water, but also to put out the fires caused by the bombing.

Last week, Olga and Mykalo watched helplessly as their apartment burned after the fire brigade ran out of water.

The Protestant humanitarian organization Hands to Help is providing materials to build two wells, and Anatoliy Beztalanny, 48, has volunteered with others to dig them.. “We have enough food, but there is a problem with hygiene and water”it states.

A layer of rock prevents them from advancing. They must return to the capital, kyiv, in search of equipment to drill. They vow to return, despite the danger.

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