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In Ukraine’s Avdiivka, divided loyalties after nearly a year of Russian assault


Russian forces have for months been concentrating their offensive on eastern Ukraine with the aim of capturing the Donetsk region. Avdiivka, a town located on the outskirts of the occupied regional capital, is one of the most dangerous places on the front line. It has resisted Russian assaults for nearly a year of continuous siege, and Russian aircraft and missiles have been ravaging what remains of the town for weeks. FRANCE 24 reporters Catherine Norris Trent, Johan Bodin and Dymitro Kovalchuk went in to speak with the people there.

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“This used to be a school. The Russian occupying forces launch between four and 12 airstrikes a day,” said Maksym Lutyi, a Ukrainian soldier.

Maksym has watched as Avdiivka has been relentlessly pounded for months by artillery, tank shells and now, increasingly, aviation. 

His job is to protect the remaining population, even if their beliefs are diametrically opposed to his own. Avdiivka was occupied by Russian forces for three months in 2014 before Ukrainian forces pushed them back. Since then, the front line has never been far away, and some of those remaining still harbor sympathies for the Kremlin.

“I hope we’ll be liberated soon. We are suffering. It’s been going on for nearly 10 years. I hope that Russia will take this city. That’s the honest truth,” said Nina, an 86-year-old resident who operates the only remaining shop. All of her family is in Russia, and she simply doesn’t doesn’t believe the Ukrainian TV news broadcasts shown in the town’s humanitarian shelter.

Others remain out of a sense of duty: two doctors and six nurses and a few support staff have stayed on, scared for their lives yet determined to care for the remaining, mainly elderly population.

“I am afraid. I have a family. I have someone to live for. I have a 3-year-old granddaughter. We just have to do our duty. Our duty is to stand firm,” said Vitaliy Sytnyk, a doctor in the town’s central hospital.

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