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Water crisis looms over Sloviansk city in eastern Ukraine

Distant sounds of artillery shells mingle with the hustle and bustle of people gathered around public water pumps in Sloviansk as the unrest fills the nearly empty streets of this eastern Ukraine city. Breaking through the silence.

Members of Slovyansk's declining population only show up for a few minutes at a time to fill pumps that have been the city's only source of water for over two months. Fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces near a major city in the Donetsk region has damaged critical infrastructure and left residents without access to gas and water for months.

Water is flowing for now, but in the winter, just 7 miles (12 km) from the Russian-occupied territories, it will not face a humanitarian crisis when water pipes start to freeze. There is growing concern that

"The constant fighting has destroyed the water infrastructure," said a 76-year-old widow who collects 20 liters (about 5 gallons) of water twice a day from a public tank near her apartment. said her Lyubov Mahlii. , he climbed four steps, dragging his plastic bottle.

Lyubov Mahlii, 76, checks her freezer while cooking in her apartment in Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Aug. 7, 2022.
His 76-year-old Lyubov Mahlii I'm checking the freezer while I'm cooking in my apartment. 7 August 2022, Sloviansk, Donetsk Oblast, Eastern Ukraine

"It's a big risk for us, but what can we do?"

Only one-fifth of the city's pre-invasion population of 100,000 remains. Fierce fighting rages just a few miles away as Russian forces continue their advance on Donetsk, part of the industrial Donbass region where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014. Local officials believe the situation will only get worse once the cold weather sets in.

Locals fill bottles with water from a hand pump in his one of five public wells or from his plastic tank, then use bicycle baskets, wheeled carts, and even Put it on a cart and carry it home. Stroller for children.

Speaking from her tidy kitchen after such a trip, Mahlii said she had boiled the water for at least 15 minutes to make sure it was safe to consume. The rest is used for bathing, washing clothes, washing dishes, watering plants, and caring for a stray dog ​​named Chapa.

After her husband Nikolai died of diabetes four years before her, Marley shares a Soviet-provided apartment with two bright yellow canaries and a variety of houseplants. increase.

A resident fills up water bottles at a well in Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Aug. 6, 2022.
Residents filling water bottles at a well in Sloviansk, Donetsk region. , Eastern Ukraine, 6 August 2022.

The water she collects fills the plastic tubs and buckets stacked on every flat surface in her tiny bathroom, empty plastic bottles were lined up. wall in her hallway. For lunch, I cooked meat and vegetable soup on an electric stove.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a mandatory evacuation order for all residents of the Donetsk region at the end of July, saying life would be at stake. But despite that, and the horror that accompanies the screeching sound of a rocket falling near the city, with no money to relocate and no place to go, Marley intends to stay in Sloviansk no matter what.

"I don't want to leave my apartment because someone else might live there," she said. ``I don't want to leave. Collected. She said the shortage turned every aspect of her life upside down.

"Without water, you can't go anywhere. A day she has to carry 60, 80, 100 liters of water, and that's not enough," she said. rice field. "Bread and water are sacred and they have only taken it from the people. Such deeds must be punished by God's judgment, perhaps not by us."

Ida Svystunova, 89, looks out the damaged room adjoining her apartment from a May rocket attack in Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Aug. 7, 2022.
Eighty-nine-year-old Ida Svystunova vacated the damaged room adjacent to her apartment. looking from outside Her May rocket attack in Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, August 7, 2022.

I often wash my clothes in the nearby lake.

She complained that in nearby Kramatorsk—just six miles (10 km) to the south of her—water was still running from the taps, and running out of water. I blamed the local government for being there.

But Oleksandr Goncharenko, head of Kramatorsk's military government, said that in winter, when temperatures drop to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Celsius), even relative luxury is threatened.

"All these wells and pumps will freeze," Goncharenko said, adding that places such as Sloviansk and Kramatorsk without gas had become "hostages of destroyed infrastructure."

Goncharenko said the city of Kramatorsk would drain city pipes leading to unheated structures to prevent them from freezing or bursting, adding that he was "99% sure" that the gas would not be restored by winter. ' said. Power outages and lack of heating could also increase the risk of fires as people try other ways to heat and light their homes, he added.

With the war front threatening to move west and a harsh winter looming, Ukrainian officials are still trying to convince the remaining residents of the Donetsk region to evacuate.

Kramatorsk officials plan to build more public wells to supply the remaining population, but Goncharenko warned that water quality cannot be guaranteed. Such water is likely to be sourced from deep underground, and contains too much calcium to be suitable for drinking. , after 47 years in a Sloviansk apartment, she will face whatever comes from home.

"We are surviving," she said. "We survive by any means."