Chernov, known for its eclectic monasteries, is under constant bombardment. It has no electricity, no heating, no running water.
LVIV, Ukraine – Like many residents of the besieged Ukraine of Chernihiv, linguist Igor Kazmerchak spends nights in a bomb shelter and begins his day in line for a little drinking water, which the authorities have left to distribute.
Surrounded by Russian troops and under constant bombardment, the northern city, known for its eclectic monasteries, lacks electricity, heating and running water. Lists of drugs in pharmacies that are no longer available are increasing every day.
“In the basements at night, everyone is talking about one thing: Chernihiv will be the next Mariupol,” said 38-year-old Kazmerchak, referring to the 525-mile southern port city, which has experienced some of the worst horrors since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Fear is not destructive. On Wednesday, Russian bombs destroyed Chernihiv’s main bridge over the Desna on a road leading to Kyiv; on Friday artillery shells made the remaining pedestrian bridge impassable, cutting off the last possible path for people to exit or for food and medicine.
Just over a month after the invasion, Russia’s attack escalated into a brutal war of attrition as its military tried to subdue cities such as Chernihiv. Bombing of hospitals and other non-military facilities, such as the Mariupol Theater, where Ukrainian officials said a Russian airstrike last week is believed to have killed about 300 people, has led to charges of war crimes.
Questions about the direction of Russia’s offensive surfaced on Friday, when a senior military official said the main task of the first stage the operation – reducing Ukraine’s combat capability – was “generally completed”. The Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff, Colonel-General Sergei Rudskaya, said that Russian forces could now focus on “the main goal – the liberation of Donbass.”
it is mostly a Russian-speaking eastern region, where Russian-backed separatists have been at war with Ukrainian forces since 2014 and where many residents want close ties with Moscow. Mariupol is there, albeit outside the two separatist-controlled territories.
U.S. officials say Russian troops appear to have halted their ground offensive to capture the capital, Kyiv, and have focused more on gaining control of the Donbass region in the southeast.
However, British defense officials said on Saturday that the Russian military was continuing the siege of a number of other major Ukrainian cities, including Chernihiv, which is 91 miles from Kyiv.
“Russia is likely to continue to use its heavy firepower in urban areas as it seeks to limit its already significant casualties at the cost of additional civilian casualties,” the UK Defense Department said in a recent briefing on the war.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyspeaking on video at the Qatari forum in Doha, on Saturday compared the destruction of Mariupol with the Syrian and Russian destruction of the city of Aleppo.
“They are destroying our ports,” Zelensky said. “The lack of exports from Ukraine will hit countries around the world.”
He called on countries to increase energy exports to give European countries an alternative to Russian oil and gas.
“Europe’s future depends on your efforts,” he said.
In Kiev, the ashes of the dead lie in the main crematorium, as many relatives goneleaving urns unclaimed. For civilians who have decided to stay or have been unable to leave under constant shelling, the suffering is mounting.
In Yasnogorodka, a village about 30 miles west of Kiev that Russian troops occupied earlier in the week appears to have been driven out as part of a Ukrainian counter-offensive. The houses at the main crossroads lay in ruins. The tower of the village church is damaged.
“You can see for yourself what happened here. People were killed here. Our soldiers died here, ”Yasnaharadka resident Valery Puzakov said.
Hospitals are no longer open in Chernihiv, and residents are cooking on campfires because there is no electricity.
Chernihiv Mayor Vladislav Atroshenko said more than half of the city’s 280,000 residents had fled as a result of the incessant attack.
Russian forces, he told Ukrainian television, “deliberately destroy civilian infrastructure – schools, kindergartens, churches, apartment buildings and even the local football stadium.”
It was impossible to count the dead, but Atroshenko estimated the figure at “hundreds”.
Located just about 45 miles from the border with Belarus on its way to Kyiv, Chernihiv was attacked in the early days of the war and was surrounded by Russian troops this month, but its defenders still prevented the capture.
“Chernihiv has become a symbol of the failed blitzkrieg of the Russian army, which planned to capture the city in one day and move towards Kiev,” – said Nikolai Sungurovsky, military analyst at the Kiev think tank “Razumkov Center”.
Kazmerchak began spending the night in a bomb shelter after a Russian bomb hit a Stalin-era movie theater near the 12-story apartment building where he lived. A Russian missile also destroyed a hotel near his home.
“The walls were shaking so much that I thought my house would collapse in a minute and I would be trapped,” Kazmerchak said.
Declining stocks have led to long queues at the few grocery stores that still had food. The March 16 shelling killed 10 civilians waiting on the street to buy bread. Kazmerczak said residents remained on the dungeons and stayed at home, but as the siege continued, some abandoned attempts to stay safe.
“Destroyed houses, fires, corpses in the street, huge air bombs that did not explode in the yards, no one is surprised,” he said. “People are just tired of fear and don’t even always go down to the basements.”