Living underground on the spearhead of Russia’s offensive

Most of her life has been devoted to working at a salt mine in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region."I just want to live, to grow old in a normal way, die a normal death, not be killed by a missile," the 62-year-old told AFP."How should I live? On humanitarian aid? Asking for food with an outstretched hand?" she asks, pacing the dank lair beneath an apartment block where she now spends three quarters of her time.- 'How should I feel?' -The battle has been gruelling, devolving into an artillery duel between troops dug in around strategic settlements and cached in hedgerows and forests fringing vast swathes of farmland.However, the assault on Soledar — near the larger city of Bakhmut — "has been its most successful axis in the Donbas" over the past month, according to Britain's ministry of defence.Every few moments, the eerie urban silence is broken by the chest-thumping thud of cluster bombs and incoming artillery, casting dust into the searing summer sky.To escape the deadly contest above, Klymenko lives below, in a semi-subterranean cellar.Now it has been left to Klymenko, her husband and another man — 59-year-old Oleg Makeev — as well as a caged parrot and a wandering cat."You can't cook anything normally here, you can't wash yourself. How am I supposed to feel?" Makeev trails off.Outside the city limits, Ukrainian soldiers mill around at the roadside, their vehicles parked in the shade, hidden from Russian aerial reconnaissance.There are rumours the Russians may already be inside the city limits, and both Bakhmut and the nearby larger city of Kramatorsk bear signs the defenders are preparing for urban warfare there.Above one eye the word "Freedom" is etched in cursive tattoo ink."We are sitting in the trenches," says Mykhailo. "There is a lot of their artillery, mortars, and we cannot react, we have nothing."jts/dt/jv…

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