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Life and death under shelling in frontline Ukraine village

Sacha, Alexander and Gennady have had enough. The three middle-aged friends have had their fill of death. Their village is on the front line, 15 kilometres (10 miles) north of Lugansk, one of the last two cities still held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

“We have got used to them shelling each other,” said Sacha, 54. “When the fighting gets closer we take shelter. But when the aircraft appear everyone runs.”

And they have reason. Ostrovka Street, where the three men live, was hit by a Ukrainian air strike on July 2.

A salvo of rockets raked half a dozen houses. Eight people were killed instantly, two others died of their wounds later.

Survivors insist there were no military targets in the vicinity, even if the area is controlled by pro-Russian separatists to whom the men admit they are sympathetic.

Stanitsa Luganskaya is caught between Ukrainian government forces to the north and the separatists to the west. Every day artillery shells fly back and forth over the village.

The railway line that runs not far from the entry to the village has also made it a strategic objective, and often comes under fire.

– Nowhere to go –

“Generally they start firing at each other early in the morning, and again at the end of the afternoon,” said 40-year-old Gennady. “Luckily, apart from the air strike, we haven’t been hit by anything else yet.”

But few villagers are prepared to run the risk. Of the 100 or so people who live on the street, only a dozen remain, almost all of them men.

But Sacha, like his friends, does not want to leave. “I have lived here for 40 years, why should I leave it all now? My house, my work… and anyway I have nowhere to go. Everyone is afraid.”

Nadejda Prokofieva, 63, has nowhere to go either. So she is staying put in what remains of her house. The walls were half blown out by the rocket blasts, with the singed ceilings leaving a heavy smell of burning. The end of one rocket is still stuck in her garden at the bottom of a two-metre (six foot) wide crater.

There is no electrty but by some miracle the water pump from her well survived, as did some of her chickens and three of her rabbits.

“There were no ‘terrorists’ here and see what happened. I can’t understand it. It’s worse than fascism,” she said.

Even though she is retired, Nadejda said she has had no aid for 10 days. “They have to stop. What could be worse than this?”

Ivan Mironenko’s chin is held together with a metal bar, a scar running the whole of its length. His wife died in the air strike.

“Why does the world say nothing while brother kills brother — aren’t we all Ukrainians?” he pleaded.