An artillery shell screams overhead driving Oleksandr underground into into a warren of basement rooms into darkness. When the light comes on, a family is revealed. Igor, a boy with bloodshot eyes, sits on the edge of his a bed. In silence.
Most people have left the city of Severodonetsk in Ukraine's Luhansk region. It’s about as far to the east as Ukrainian-controlled territory goes these days. The Russian military is just a couple of kilometers away.
The artillery is so close that you can hear it launch, whistle through the air, and explode and a couple seconds later close to city’s hospital.
Oleksandr is a widower. An artillery round hit his house on April 1. Since then, he’s been living in the basement more or less continuously. He emerges only to cook meals in an apartment, where mercifully he still has gas supply.
“All the days are similar, we don’t count them anymore,” he says. “They pass and pass. Nothing depends on us.”
Like many in Ukraine’s Luhansk region, he thought he knew what war meant. It’s been raging here on the border with a separatist region since 2014. His house was also hit that year, burned to the ground.
“I’ve been through it. The only thing is that when it all started full-scale like this, I had no idea it could be like this," he said.
Oleksandr’s lifeline is Bogdan, a police officer from Severodonetsk’s sister city across the river, Lysychansk.
His 4x4 Lada is packed with boxes of food, medicine and any other special requests that have been made of him that day. He races his little jeep through the canyons of the city’s Soviet towers.
The near empty quiet on the streets frequently shattered by incoming shells. The aftermath of artillery strikes is every to see – in missiles embedded in the street, shattered windows, and blackened walls.
There are odd signs of normality: A elderly woman in a colorful sweater carries her groceries home. A young girl holds her mother’s hand as they walk past a playground painted in Ukrainian yellow and blue.
Bogdan drives down narrow alleyways, and pulls up to doorways whose stillness belies the life that lies below.
“Water is our problem,” one woman says to Bogdan as he carries boxes inside. “And candles. Because the light is out of order.”
A woman in a purple fleece, Olga, comes down the staircase from her apartment.
“I have double hell,” she explains. “My husband is dying. For two months he has lost a lot of weight. A living corpse. That’s why it’s very scary.”
Another door opens. Another middle-aged woman, another “Olga.” She wraps herself in a red shirt as she steps into the hallway. When there’s a “big bang,” they go to the basement, she explains. Otherwise, they stay at home.
There are 20 people left in the building. She says she will stay.
“I have sore feet. I walk with a stick. I have a dog. Nobody needs us anywhere. We’re needed only in our place. We’ll wait for it to be over," she said.