Latest news on the Russian-Ukrainian war: live updates

Credit…Mauricio Lima for the New York Times
Credit…Mauricio Lima for the New York Times
Credit…Mauricio Lima for the New York Times

DONETSK PROVINCE, Ukraine — Artillery fire rang out in the distance, but the noise from the courtyard of a house near the front line last week came from the cries of children playing.

Even as war drew closer, Natasha, a 46-year-old mother of six, said she had no intention of giving up and leaving, instead focusing on keeping house and home together.

“We could go,” she said, adding that Ukrainian soldiers stationed nearby had suggested that she evacuate the family. “But how would we make money? And I have children to feed.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was preparing a mandatory evacuation of civilians from areas of fiercest fighting in Donetsk province, saying hundreds of thousands of people, including tens of thousands of children, should leave immediately .

Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister, said up to 200,000 people had to leave the region because there would be no heating or gas supply in Donetsk this winter due to the destruction of gas pipelines by the Russians.

Natasha and her husband, Oleh, 49, are the only couple with children left in their village on a hill a few kilometers from Russian positions in eastern Ukraine. But their dilemma is similar to that of many rural families. For the children who still live in the villages and towns of this part of Donetsk province, life is a precarious, self-sufficient existence as war threatens to sweep them away.

In the countryside, children appear unexpectedly, on their bicycles to fetch water or throw a bag of products distributed by a charity association. In the cities, they accompany their parents to the store, their faces pale and tired after days spent in the shelter of basements.

Natasha and Oleh have five sons and one daughter – Tolik, 14, Sasha, 12, Vova, 11, Nastya, 9, Kostya, 7, and Yarik, 6. The couple both lost their jobs when nearby factories closed with the start of the war. five months ago, and they’ve been struggling to make ends meet ever since. They requested that their last name not be published to avoid any retribution in the future.

Government services in the area have largely ceased. Alimony in Ukraine only pays for children under 3, so the family is no longer eligible for help, Natasha said.

“We had to fend for ourselves,” she said.

Natasha became the main breadwinner when neighbors fled the war and left their home and dairy cows in her care.

She and her eldest sons are now accomplished dairy farmers. Tolik and Vova tore away from the family mobile phone to bring the cows back one recent evening from the grassy hillside next to the village. Natasha tied up the cows and Vova plugged in the battery-operated milking machine.

She gets up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to milk the cows and has taught herself how to make sour cream and cottage cheese, which she sells at the nearby town market.

There is no longer a bus service to the city, so it runs most days, leaving at 6:30 a.m. arriving at 8:00 a.m.

Credit…Mauricio Lima for the New York Times

In town, she sits under the trees on a sidewalk with a group of women who sell homemade pies, as well as fruits and vegetables from their gardens. But customers are dwindling as Russian rocket fire hits the city with increasing intensity.

This fall, with the youngest, Yarik, turning 6, all of the children had to be in school, Natasha said.

Instead, with education severely disrupted for two years during the pandemic, children only started returning for two-week shifts last fall. Then war broke out and school was again suspended.

Outside of schooling, the children seem little affected by the war, she says.

“The little ones aren’t afraid of anything,” she says. They have basements in both houses to use as bomb shelters, but keeping the kids inside isn’t easy. “I shout at them to hide, but as soon as a helicopter flies, they come out. It is interesting for them.

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