‘Easier to survive outside the cities’: Ukraine’s countryside offers safe haven from Russian invasion

The Russian invasion of Ukraine caused one of the largest population movements in Europe since World War II. As the Ukrainian army fortified the cities, many city dwellers fled to the countryside, where they discovered a rural population bent on long-term resistance.

Abandoning cities to the countryside is a constant response to war and Ukrainians are no different. Two weeks after the start of the Russian offensive, more than two million Ukrainian refugees fled to the European Union and Moldova. A large, although not quantified, number of displaced people has taken refuge in rural areas within Ukraine, with relatives or in a second home.

“Live outside the cities is much easier. I feel much safer in this isolated place, and I don’t understand why the army wastes time and ammunition to come here,” Anna Martsinkiev, a sociologist who lives in a small house outside Obukhev, about 40 kilometers south of Kyiv, she said. France 24.

The Russian invasion reminded her of the old stories of her ancestors in World War II. Resistance fighters were tracked into her family by both the Nazis and the Soviets. Withdrawing to the countryside to keep a position out of sight was the key to their survival.

Country house near Obukhiv, 40 km south of Kyiv. © Mehdi Chebil Almost 80 years later, Martsinkiv has not forgotten this lesson. Her husband, who participates in the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, applied for a firearm. But when she’s home alone, her personal sense of security comes from her three dogs.

She explained, “Another benefit of being in the country is owning dogs. They are like my army, they inform me of any interference and can deter people with bad intentions.” “Plus, they bring positive energy, they are companions that give you unconditional love….this is very important to keep your spirits high.”

Anna Martsinkiev feels much safer in the countryside than in the city, not least because of the presence of her dogs. © Mehdi Chebil Reaching for food supplies As if by a beep, a roaring chorus of barking outside signaled someone had arrived in their garden. Her neighbor, Svetlana Krachenko, was the one who brought some fresh eggs from that day. Another advantage of relocating to the countryside is access to food supplies outside of the usual means.

It is now impossible to find pasta, rice or canned foods in some supermarkets. © Mehdi Chebil Most of the local fresh produce markets are now closed and Ukrainian supermarkets are short of many key products.

A visit to the Obukhiv hypermarket, which is located about ten minutes away, reveals surreal sights. Shelves of canned food, pasta, and rice look like they’ve been attacked. The same goes for the baskets that should contain the fruits and vegetables most commonly used in Ukrainian recipes. It is impossible to find an onion or a carrot.

Fresh fruits and vegetables section at Abu Khaif supermarket on March 6, 2022. Mehdi Chebil © Mehdi Chebil Oddly enough, shelves of sweet items are overflowing. Some exotic fruits – pineapple, mango and citrus fruits – are still available.

Chocolate eggs, candy bars, and various sweets are still available in large quantities. © Mehdi Chebil On the 14th day of the war, the supply of bread continues, although it is very low. But Krachenko didn’t wait for supplies to run out before she started making it herself. “We decided to bake bread on the third day of the invasion, after searching for recipes on the Internet,” said the 50-year-old housekeeper, who used to go to Kyiv regularly for work before the war. 24.

“I noticed that people started leaving Kyiv two weeks before the Russian attack. We already had a lot of food stored in the house, so my priority was to buy medicines for my husband’s heart condition. Now we stay here and we don’t want to be far from home.”

Pickled vegetables and supplies: The house she’s lived in near Obukhiv for 30 years has supplies that would make many survivors envious. Apart from her chickens, which provide her with fresh eggs and therefore plenty of protein, she has a vegetable garden that allows her to harvest potatoes, cabbage, onions and other vegetables that are very popular in Ukrainian cuisine in spring and summer. Rural people also keep large quantities of pickled vegetables.

Homemade tractors and cans in the basement of a resident of Ubukhiv. © Mehdi Chebil “We stocked a little of everything in advance in three-liter jars. We also have a lot of pasta, rice, lentils and buckwheat. I have a 50-kilo bag of flour … I don’t know how long it will last, we’ll see.”

In her land there is also a well, but the electric pump that brings water, one of the few perks she has for modernity, will not work anymore if there is a power outage. And generators are not common in rural areas of Ukraine.

Sergey, a former military man, is doing well. © Mehdi Chebil Sergey, a former military man who lives 200 meters away, would have no problem if that happened. His old manual well is fully operational, so he has a guaranteed water supply. He moved here six months ago after buying a house and a large vegetable garden to live with his elderly mother and her twelve dogs.

“It’s important to me because with the war, water can become more expensive,” said Sergey, who is not worried about running out of food here. “If I had stayed in the city, we would have had to live in basements or shelters. Here in the countryside, we’d still be much freer.”

This article has been translated from the original into French

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