Mortar fire now a part of life for village on Ukraine frontline

20th May 2014, Comments 0 comments

Olga Vasilyevna thought that the night's shelling was finished when she took up her hoe and headed into the garden to tend to her potato patch.

"I said to myself, 'thank God, it's over' and just as I started working I heard shhhhhhhhh overhead and then boom, boom, boom," the grey-haired pensioner told AFP.

"Everyday they are shooting, from heavy machine guns and from automatic rifles and mortars," she told AFP over her wooden front gate, as she took a break from digging the soil.

"I've already learnt to tell the difference."

Over the past few weeks the unremarkable village of Andriyivka has gone from being a forgotten hamlet to the frontline of the increasingly deadly confrontation between Ukraine's army and separatist rebels that is tearing apart the region.

Up on a hill above, the Ukrainian military has set up camp with its armoured vehicles underneath a television tower. Down below rebel fighters have been manning a barricade behind the blasted ruins of some old railway cargo wagons.

With growing frequency, the two sides exchange fire, turning Andriyivka -- located on the edge of the rebel stronghold of Slavyansk -- into a perilous no-man's land.

Except that its inhabitants are still there.

"Last night I slept on the floor between the fireplace and a wardrobe," said Olga, as birdsongs twittered around her little brick house on Oktyabrskaya street.

"When the shells hit up on the hill our house shakes. The clock on our wall is now crooked."

- 'Where can I go' -

Despite the danger, Olga -- and others -- say they're not planning to leave.

"Where else can I go," a man said as he walked along the street with his wife. "I am 65 years old. I was born here and I've lived here all my life."

Further up the road, past a small mortar hole, Valentina Pakula and her husband Igor say they only put up the dark green metal fence around their house in April.

Now it is pockmarked with shrapnel scars and needs to be replaced.

A few days ago a shell tore through the dawn, ripping the branches off a cherry tree outside their house, spraying a parked car with shrapnel and blowing out nine of their windows.

"This used to be such a paradise but they've turned it into a hell," Pakula said.

Now she looks forward to her night shifts at a nearby machine factory as she says it allows her to relax from the firing that gets more intense during the night.

"Our liberators came and freed us from a peaceful life. Thanks so much to them," she says, pointing to where the Ukrainian army is camped out a few hundred metres (yards) away.

"What sort of government can do this?" says Igor. "That's why the people have risen up."

While the village streets are mostly deserted, the locals generally go about their daily lives despite the threat.

A couple on bicycles pedal back from the local shop. A man walks a dog.

Across Gorovaya street, Sergei, 51, works on his corn crop outside his childhood home while his invalid mother, 74, stays inside out of the heat of the day.

"In the end we've slowly got used to it all," he says.

"You wait for them to bomb and then they bomb."

© 2014 AFP

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