Volunteers evacuate elderly people from Bakhmut in Ukraine, fearing Russian advance

BAKHMUT, June 28 (Reuters) – Since Sievierodonetsk fell to Russian troops, Ukrainian volunteer Eduard Skoryk has received increasing calls to evacuate frail and elderly people from Bakhmut, 70 km away, who fear that their city in eastern Ukraine is next.

Among them is Tamara Kanonchenko, 81. She is laid on her sofa by two male volunteers, wrapped in an improvised fabric stretcher and carried down the stairs from her apartment to a van waiting outside, where she joins others who will be evacuated by train.

Social worker Iryna Navrotska watches over and reassures the elderly lady she brought meals to and cared for.

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“Nearly half of the town’s inhabitants have left. She [Tamara Kanonchenko] has disabilities…she can’t do much on her own. So if there was a difficult situation, I could not come to see her. Neither relatives nor acquaintances could come to her house,” Navrotska said.

Skoryk, 30, works with Vostok SOS, an NGO which started in 2014 to help people displaced by fighting between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian army in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Since February 2022, Vostok SOS has evacuated more than 20,000 people from the most war-affected regions of eastern and southern Ukraine.

“I think from now on there will be more people fleeing the area,” said Skoryk, whose group also provides humanitarian aid. “The situation is very unstable and tense, you can hear it and see it yourself. The shelling of Bakhmut has become much more frequent.”

Russia denies intentionally targeting civilians in its “special military operation” in Ukraine that destroyed cities, killed thousands and drove millions from their homes.

Skoryk started volunteering with Vostok SOS in May, but previously worked independently to get people out of Sievierodonetsk. His family was evacuated in mid-April but he decided to stay put.

It takes the elderly from Bakhmut to the busy Pokrovsk station, another 70 km further west, where they will board a westbound train to Dnipro and Lviv.

In Pokrovsk, Skoryk and his team see Kanonchenko in a train compartment and hand him his cane.

“At first it was very painful to watch, because I was in such a situation myself. But over time, I kind of got used to it, and I know we are doing a good thing,” did he declare.

“It’s like we’re separating families, but at the same time I understand that we’re sending people to safe places.”

Ukraine lost the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk to the battlefields of the Donbass region last week. Russian forces now attempt to storm Lysychansk, across the Siverskyi Donets River from Sievierodonetsk, which would complete their capture of Lugansk Province. Read more

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Additional reporting by Margaryta Chornokondratenko; Written by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Jane Merriman

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