The strikes are so frequent that Anna and her husband take turns in watching the sky. He does the nights, she does the mornings. “The attacks are extremely loud. The building and windows shake a lot,” she said. It is impossible to sleep. “Only when you’re exhausted, because your brain just turns off.”
The couple, and probably everyone else left in Chernihiv, spend most of their time hiding behind thick walls. “Thank God we have them,” Anna said. Their son, who is 12, rarely ventures outside. “He’s in panic. Many children are afraid of going out.”
Chernihiv, located on the banks of the Desna River, was one of the first targets for Russian troops who invaded Ukraine from Belarus, hoping to quickly reach the capital Kyiv, just 144km (90 miles) to the south. A month on, that has not happened, and they have now effectively surrounded the city.
Civilians are trapped with no running water, electricity and heating, and under relentless bombing and shelling. And like Mariupol, the besieged city on the Sea of Azov that has seen the worst of Russia’s brutality, very little seems to remain untouched.
Hospitals. Schools. A cinema. The stadium. Historic and residential buildings. All attacked, Anna said.
“They hit [sites] two times in a row. It’s obvious they do it on purpose,” she said. “Most of the city suburbs are completely destroyed.”
Olena, another resident, said the only thing still standing from the cinema was its façade. “It’s destroyed. Totally. I saw it with my own eyes”.
“In the suburbs, there were only private buildings. My friends say they are all totally destroyed,” Olena said. (The names of the civilians interviewed for this story have been changed to protect their identities as they remain in the city.)
Most days, Olena walks, sometimes for more than an hour, in search of drinkable water. She often has to endure long queues, as people bring bottles and buckets at distribution points organised by the city council. Supplies are running out, and each person is allowed to have only 10 litres.
Without electricity, the only way for her and others to charge their phones and power banks is when one of her neighbours lets them use his generator. Gas has also been cut, meaning there is no heating. “We don’t even talk about it,” she said, “because it’s now part of our routine”.