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What ceasefire, ask locals, as fighting continues in east Ukraine

A ceasefire announced by Ukraine’s new president had barely begun when residents of Andrivka, caught in the crossfire between government and rebel forces in eastern Ukraine, heard mortar fire.

“Nothing has changed,” said Lila Ivanova, head of the village council in Andriyivka.

“The ceasefire was supposed to come into force at 22:00 yesterday. Mortar fire began shortly after, followed by bursts of automatic gunfire. This morning started with cannon shots. It’s continuing now,” said 57-year-old Ivanova.

Andriyivka has an unenviable location. The village of 1,400 inhabitants is caught in the crossfire, just 600 metres from the frontline of the Ukrainian army and not much further from the pro-Russian separatists holed up in the rebel bastion of Slavyansk.

“This morning, the Ukrainian artillery fired in the direction of the Slavyansk train station. It was cannon fire — nowadays I know how to tell the difference,” said Ivanova. While she speaks, a few shots ring out from Ukrainian guns mounted on the hillside that overlooks the village.

The roofs of around a dozen houses have been destroyed by these barrages.

“A neighbour was killed by one bombardment a few days ago. I found shrapnel in my vegetable garden and my house and the windows were broken,” Ivanova continued.

The locals have learned to adapt to the chaos since the fighting began on May 2.

“When a helicopter hovers overhead, we now know that the bombardments will resume and we must be careful. It means that they have brought munitions to the Ukrainian forces stationed next to the village,” she added.

– ‘Can’t escape your destiny’ –

Curiously, not one local has bothered to reinforce their windows to avoid being injured by shattering glass.

“You can’t escape your destiny,” was the philosophical response of one resident, Vera Alexandrovna.

But daily life is tough. There has been no gas or electricity for two months since the fighting started.

“We cook on fires over bricks. We live on what we had stored in the basement and what grows in the garden. Fortunately, we have wells to provide water,” said Alexandrovna.

The locals say the Ukrainian forces prevent any technicians arriving in the village to restore water or electricity.

At the edge of the village, around 200 metres from the hillside cannons, lies small Orthodox church. Father Alexander, who has come from a neighbouring village to say mass, is also sceptical about the ceasefire that Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, declared on Friday.

“The Ukrainian president Poroshenko announced that a truce should be called,” he said. “But in fact, barely an hour later, they started with the artillery fire, heavy machine guns and people were killed.”