War in Ukraine: precarious calm on this Palm Sunday in Kramatorsk

KRAMATORSK | Usually, the bombardments rumble in the distance on the front line. But on this Palm Sunday, the inhabitants who remained in Kramatorsk are taking advantage of a lull in this city in eastern Ukraine under the threat of a Russian offensive.

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In the Svyato-Pokrovsky Orthodox Church, the Palm Sunday liturgy began.

The ranks of the faithful are sparse. About forty people are there, the majority of whom are women with colorful scarves.

“It’s hard, very hard and scary right now,” said a lady as she arrived in front of the red brick building with its four golden domes. “We must pray for our soldiers to have strength and faith, it is necessary. We need it and they need it,” she told AFP, refusing to give her name.

Two young children return with their mother to the church. Branches in hand, they come to light a candle, then come out.

“Today is a big party, Palm Sunday. It would be wrong not to come, especially when it’s calm,” says Nadia, 30, whose children aged 3 and 4 go off to play in a small park adjoining the church.

Nadia did not want to be evacuated. “I’m afraid to go anywhere alone with two children. They are still small. And all my relatives are here,” she explains.

“We don’t go to the basement every time there’s a warning siren. It’s too stressful for them. We have our place in the basement just in case, but we prefer to stay in the house if possible. We dim the lights,” she says.

Candy galore

In the center of the city, a few old trolleybuses are still running. Near the station, closed since a bombing on April 8 that killed 57 people, residents chat on the sidewalk in small groups.

Some carry shopping bags in their hands. A few food stores are still open.

War in Ukraine: precarious calm on this Palm Sunday in Kramatorsk

Like the “Miracle Market”, a supermarket near the center.

Some shelves are empty, but many customers remain in the aisles.

Igor Koudriavtsiev, the young manager, is happy to be of service to those who stayed to live in Kramatorsk. The vast majority of the 150,000 inhabitants have left the city, the regional capital of Donbass.

“Our profits are not as high (as before the war), but we have responsibility for those who stayed. Mostly elderly people who, for whatever reason, couldn’t leave,” the manager said.

Only one of the eight stores of the chain present in the city had to close, for lack of staff. Bread, meat, vegetables, groceries, cheese, tea… “We have all the products we need. There is no supply problem,” he said.

War in Ukraine: precarious calm on this Palm Sunday in Kramatorsk

In the boxes of an almost empty display, an employee is busy putting back bags of candy. “It’s what leaves the fastest, with the tea,” she says.

“No desire to leave”

On the large market in the city center, the majority of stalls keep the curtain down, but dozens of inhabitants circulate in the aisles.

“It’s difficult, but we keep working. We have less than half of our regular customers,” says Yelena, behind her small clothing stand.

Why didn’t she leave town?

“I have my own house, I’ve worked so hard, I won’t be moving anywhere. My father is 80 years old, I will not leave him. Slowly but surely, I continue to work”, she explains.

War in Ukraine: precarious calm on this Palm Sunday in Kramatorsk

“I believe in our men (on the front), I believe in Ukraine,” says the 51-year-old saleswoman.

Further on, cigarette in mouth, Serguiï sells vegetables and fruits. Business is tough. But he doesn’t want to leave either.

“I have nowhere to go, even if I wanted to. I have no desire to leave. Of course, it was better without (the war). When it was calm, we worked and we lived well”, he regrets.

What if the Russians get to Kramatorsk? “Honestly, I’ll work as long as I can,” he says.

Near the station, a military truck with a large trailer slowly passes a crossroads.

It carries an impressive 203 mm artillery gun. The range of its shells is about forty kilometers.

This is approximately the distance from Kramatorsk to the front lines around the city.

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