When the couple left the house they’d shared for nearly 70 years to embark on a journey to a nursing home in western Ukraine, their daughter offered them words of comfort.
But when the van’s sliding door closed, Maryna burst into tears.
“I understand that this is the last time I will ever see them,” said Maryna, who decided to stay in Kramatorsk with her husband to continue working. “You see their age, I can’t give them proper care.”
The evacuation of Maryna’s parents, carried out by volunteers from a Ukrainian aid group, came days after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ordered all those still in the country’s disputed Donetsk region to evacuate as soon as possible as Russian forces deepened. penetrate into the region.
“The more people leaving the Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill,” Zelenskyy said.
While August weather remains warm in eastern Ukraine, authorities are also preparing for the cold autumn and winter months, when they fear that many of the roughly 350,000 residents still in Donetsk may not have access to heating, electricity or even clean water. .
On Tuesday, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said a train carrying evacuees from Donetsk had arrived in central Ukraine that day, marking the start of what authorities describe as a mandatory evacuation effort that would take 200,000-220,000 out of the province. to fetch. by autumn.
On the outskirts of Kramatorsk, which has been regularly hit by Russian shelling, volunteers have set up a rally point to collect evacuees who are then transported to the nearest working train station in Pokrovsk, 50 miles (85 kilometers) to the southwest.
As she struggled to get into the van to the train station, Valentyna Abramanovska, 87, carried only a black-and-white photo of her mother and sister, taken nearly 50 years ago on the Sea of Azov, as a memento of her life. with her.
“God help me, God help me,” she repeated, crossing a cross with trembling hands. “I think I’m going crazy.”
Abramanovska said she had been terrified after the bombings in her village had become “a nightmare” and had been persuaded by her daughter to leave.
She still has childhood memories, she said, of German soldiers occupying Ukraine during World War II. But for her, the experience of a Russian bombing has been much worse.
“They’re beasts, jackals. God forgive me for what I say,” she said. “How is it possible? They kill children.”
While the government’s evacuation order has convinced some of those left behind in the Donetsk region to flee, others are resisting.
Nina Grandova’s third-floor apartment in Kramatorsk was damaged by Russian shelling in July and her disabled husband, Yurii, has lived in the building’s dingy basement since the Russian invasion on February 24.
Still, she said they have no plans to leave and has gathered firewood in the yard of her building for winter cooking.
She is willing to sign a document required by authorities declaring that those who remain will take responsibility for their own lives, she said.
“I have nowhere to go, I have to take care of my husband,” she said. “What’s going to happen will happen.”
After being transported to the train station in Pokrovsk, hundreds of evacuees boarded the blistering train for a several-hour journey west to the city of Dnipro.
Viktoria, a young mother from the eastern city of Bakhmut, stood on the platform and said the danger of shelling and the prospect of a winter without heating convinced her to flee.
“We already have problems with electricity and no gas, so I think families with children will be the first to leave,” she said.
Just before the train started moving and headed west, an air raid siren pierced the air.