In Eastern Ukraine, Desperation and Destruction in a Contested City

Lyuba Sklyarova lay in her bed in Debaltseve, Ukraine, after recent shelling caused her to spill boiling borscht on herself, leaving her effectively bedridden from burns.rn

An ambulance came and wrapped up her burns, she said, but they had no medicine to give her and have not returned.”

DEBALTSEVE, Ukraine — A line of furious, bedraggled women, holding tight to their wind-whipped clothes, waited for a chance to fill their plastic jugs from a water truck. Outside city hall, old men and women grabbed desperately at loaves of bread dropped off by Ukrainian troops. A few more gathered inside to recharge their radios and other electronic gear at the community generator.

“We live like this every day,” said Valentina Belokon, who is staying with a relative after shelling destroyed her apartment and killed her mother last month. “Any moment may be our last breath.”

There had been no electricity, tap water or heat in Debaltseve for 10 days. On Saturday, the temperature slipped below freezing and fell even further on Sunday.

A two-day window during which the Ukrainian military and rebels agreed to stop the fighting to allow residents to flee snapped shut on Saturday afternoon. During that period, shelling by both sides had tapered off but never really ended.

“Cease-fire? The cease-fire does not exist,” said Capt. Yuriy Karvatsky, an anesthesiologist with the First Medical Troop of the Ukrainian National Guard. “The fighting has gone on.”

Her story is typical. She and most of the remaining residents of the 15 apartments that share a stairwell in her apartment block had fled that morning after weeks of being determined to ride out the fighting.

“We believed that the fighting was finishing up,” she said. “But then, my apartment was shaking from the shelling overnight, and we realized we could not stay any longer.”

One elderly woman was too frail to move, so another man agreed to stay behind to watch out for her and to guard their apartments from looters. Everyone else fled.

A voice erupted from the end of the dark carriage. Is the woman still here who needed transport to the hospital? Silence. Is there a family with children here? A couple in Slovyansk has offered to take you in. Silence again.

Ms. Kurta laughed softly.

“We are lucky to have landed in Slovyansk,” she said. “The people here have come through the same kind of difficult times, so they understand.”

The New York Times