Kharkiv has been suffering from daily shelling by the Russian army since the beginning of the full-scale war. Some people have got evacuated, but there are also those who, despite everything, cannot leave the city. A few residents of Saltivka, the district in the northeast of the city that has been most affected by the Russian attacks, now live in the basement of the local school. Lviv photographer Yana Sidash has documented how the lives of these people have changed.
Saltivka is both a district in Kharkiv and a huge residential area. About 400,000 people, almost a third of the city’s population, lived here before the outbreak of the full-scale war with Russia. The Russian army has been shelling Saltivka since the first days of the war, and the attacks are still ongoing in some areas.
One of the two parts of the district — Northern Saltivka — was severely devastated by large-calibre artillery: the Russian occupiers had already destroyed 70% of residential buildings and civilian infrastructure. Today, not a single building remains untouched in the place where hundreds of thousands of people lived before the hostilities began.
Photographer Yana Sidash interviewed eight people who did not know each other before the war. On February 24, at 5 am, they ran out of their homes to the sound of explosions. They had no belongings and did not know where to hide, so they found their shelter in the school basement. Today, they remain there. Eight people have become a family.
There is no light or utilities in the basement of the school. Yet, this small community, united by the war, rearranged the space in a way that made it relatively livable. Yana says these people do not look like strangers to each other — they are friendly and open, and each of them tries to be useful and needed.
A retired woman who worked in an evening school as a maintenance supervisor. Her home was completely destroyed. In the basement, she helps to clean.
The secretary of this school,works here for 22 years. In her free time embroiders with beads. Collects humanitarian aid for other people in the basement.
Nataliia’s son, a student of H. Skovoroda Kharkiv National Pedagogical University, studied at this school. Fond of assembling the Rubik’s cube. He collects and distributes humanitarian aid together with mom in this basement.
Nataliia and Oleh Afanasenko
A married couple. Before the war, Nataliia worked as a saleswoman. Here she cooks. Oleh used to be a security guard, and in the basement he is responsible for wood for the fire.
Liudmyla and Valerii Hretskykh
A married couple who help with the chores: cleaning the yard and gathering wood for the fire. She constantly prays for everyone who lives in the basement.
Before the war, she worked as a conductor at the local energy supplier. Larysa takes care of homeless animals. Looks after 8 cats and a dog. In the school basement, takes care of the animals that temporarily live there, while also distributing humanitarian aid.
Living in Kharkiv, especially in Saltivka, is still dangerous. The Russian army continues to shell the city. Because of this, Kharkiv residents mostly spend their time in the basement and rarely go outside. The photographer says that the routine helps the school basement residents to distract themselves from this terrible reality. Their morning starts with washing, lighting a fire, cooking and talking. Then, everyone fulfills his or her duties. Some distribute humanitarian aid in other districts of Saltivka, others clean the school that was hit by Russian shells several times.
Nataliia Skvortsova agreed to show around the school, though initially suggested not to go due to constant explosions. Yana says that the woman knows every room and its history well. Nataliia is sad about the fact that the museum of the military glory of World War II has been destroyed, and now there are only dried plants in the greenhouse which was the gem of the school. Still, despite the pain of these losses, eight people who now live in the basement of the school do not lose their optimism and believe in victory:
— Now it (the school. — ed.) is our home. We love it, we are responsible for it.
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