Around Ukraine's Mariupol displaced wary despite lull

27th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

Pensioner Alla Troyan shares her room with ten other displaced people in a dilapidated social centre in Ukraine's port city Mariupol, after fighting in their nearby village forced them to flee.

Despite a welcome calm, brought about in recent days as a shaky truce has taken hold, uncertainty is rife.

"How are things going to turn out? We have no idea," Troyan, 60, told AFP.

"If they really stop shooting and withdraw their weapons then maybe we can return."

The ceasefire was meant to come into force weeks ago but fighting raged on and Troyan's village of Shyrokine to the east of Mariupol was a battleground for government forces and pro-Russian rebels.

Kiev and its allies say that Mariupol -- a vital steel-making hub -- could be the target for any new separatist offensive, and to many it would remove a key obstacle for Russia if it wanted to open up a land bridge to the Crimea peninsula it seized a year ago.

-- No money, more problems --

The director of the social centre Mimosa Stepchenko said that 32 refugees are currently living in the temporary shelter and that it could hold scores more if needed.

Conversation among those who are staying here focuses mainly on the fighting in east Ukraine that has cost at least 5,800 lives since April.

Lidia Belobrovskaya, Troyan's roommate, complains that she has not received her pension payments because the fighting stopped money being transferred to their village.

"That makes six month already that I have not got the money that I worked so hard for! Why should I carry on living?" asks the 68-year-old.

She says that the government has provided no help.

Only volunteers have handed out some 1,500 hyrvnia (50 euros) worth of coupons to those over 60 to allow them to buy groceries at the local supermarket.

Before the fighting, local authorities said that Shyrokine had some 1,200 people living in it but more than 400 have left.

And in other villages around Mariupol the impact of conflict is evident everywhere.

"People are afraid that they will continue shooting," says Volodymyr Uzbek, in Chermalyk, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) away but also hit by bombardments.

Uzbek's home was hit by a Grad rocket on February 12 but he decided to stay.

The same is true for the family of 12-year-old Sasha. He most misses the football tournaments that were cancelled because of the fighting.

"Before we used to go to play in other villages and even in Mariupol but now there are no more competitions and we can only play indoors," he says.

© 2015 AFP

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