One day in Ukrainian Donetsk

POKROVSK – On the morning of day 142 of the war in Ukraine, the mayor of a community nearing the front lines stands in sneakers and a jacket near the grave of the latest soldier.

Apart from the undertaker, Ruslan Trebushkin is the last to lay a finger on the coffin, which was closed. He worries about how much of the body is left, how much the war took. It is his 10th military funeral since the invasion of Russia in February. The funerals were televised to honor the soldiers until the recruiting office and families asked for it to be stopped “on humanitarian grounds,” he says. It had become too much.

Here, in the path of the Russian invasion, the city of Pokrovsk and other empty communities in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine live in war every day. There is the obvious conflict, with tanks and ambulances winding along the region’s patched-up two-lane roads and smoke rising beyond the sunflower fields.

And then there are personal battles, internal front lines.


Even as the mayor places a handful of roses on the grave and comforts the mother who wails, “My son, why have you forsaken me?” he grapples with a responsibility that few residents have likely considered.

He must be ready when the military orders the rest of the residents to leave, and as mayor he will be among the last to leave. The uncertainty is unsettling: the cataclysm could happen in “a week, a month, two months, depending on the movement of the front line,” he says. However, he is calm.

At noon on Day 142 of the war in Ukraine, a humanitarian coordinator in the town of Selidove walks into the echoing Soviet-era Palace of Culture as dozens of residents pick up plastic bags containing food rations.

Zita Topilina says relief efforts have helped thousands of people, including some who fled Russian-occupied areas such as the port of Mariupol. She believes that the stories of people fleeing “the other side” were horrific enough to provoke the nostalgia of residents who might sympathize with Russia.


She is one of thousands of Donetsk residents urged by authorities to evacuate while they can. Unlike many people, she has a relative elsewhere in Ukraine who can take her in. But she can’t bring herself to go.

“I’m 61 and they say you can’t plant old trees anywhere else,” she says. “I belong here and so do many other people. We believe that Ukraine is ours and we will die here.

In a quiet side room of the Palace of Culture, with sunlight filtering through the drawn pink curtains, the war made her cry. This is taking away Ukraine’s youth, she says. After the old dies, “there will be nothing.”

But she must put those thoughts aside and help the people who are waiting.

On the afternoon of the 142nd day of the war in Ukraine, soldiers pull up to a gas station in the town of Konstantinovka in a bullet-riddled van. The rear windows are gone. The exhaust system is broken. A plastic skull sits on the windshield facing the road.


Through all the days of cluster bombs and other dangers he experiences on an undisclosed front line, one of the soldiers, Roman, in sunglasses and fingerless leather gloves, is playful. On his cell phone, he shows pictures of a blast crater with a soccer ball embedded in it. “For perspective,” he says.

Perspective also comes with the bent ring hanging from its key ring. It’s his wife’s. There are four small children at home, all under the age of 10.

Roman hopes to keep the war away from them. “I would like them to be safe,” he says.

He believes that support from the West helps. But he and his friends need more to be able to return home for good.

“I’d like a peaceful sky over our heads,” he says, before getting back into the van to head back to the front. “It is.”

On the evening of day 142 of the war in Ukraine, a man stands at the counter of a walled restaurant in the city of Kramatorsk. Björk plays on the speakers.


Bogdan believes his is one of only three restaurants still operating in a city that was once home to more than 150,000 people. He says he believes it is better to be here than to sit at home and do little but listen to the artillery fire.

He almost escaped a few times. He remained silent for two days after more than 50 people were killed at the station in an attack in April. A customer, a soldier, asked him why he was still here.

Bogdan’s grandmother and father do not want to leave. And his grandfather has essentially disappeared since his village near Lyman – only about 40 kilometers (25 miles) away – was overrun by Russian forces in April. Bodhan failed to reach him after a phone call shortly before the Russians arrived. The last thing his grandfather said to him was that he needed to stock up on wood and other provisions to survive.

Bodhan wonders what will happen if his own city is also taken over.

He said he had faith in Ukrainian forces, but “I’m worried about this place.”


Minutes later, less than a kilometer from the restaurant, Russia’s latest missile attack cratered Peace Square.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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One day in Ukrainian Donetsk

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