After Weeklong Bombardment, Devastated Ukrainian City Awakens To 'Relative Calm'

AVDIYIVKA, Ukraine -- Residents of this front-line flashpoint city awoke to relative calm on February 4 after a week of heavy artillery bombardments that shattered lives, killed dozens, and caused President Petro Poroshenko to declare a state of emergency.

The lull came before a phone call that was scheduled to take place between Poroshenko and U.S. President Donald Trump around 11:45 p.m. Kyiv time. Ukraine has looked for support from Trump, who has said he wants to improve relations with Russia.

Pavlo Malykhin, the city’s head of civilian and military affairs, told RFE/RL he believed the welcomed lull was due to a local cease-fire brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s special monitoring mission to Ukraine and the Joint Center for Control and Coordination, which includes Ukrainian and Russian military officers.

At a makeshift humanitarian center beside the city’s soccer stadium, there were almost as many emergencies services workers as residents. It was a marked change from every other day this week, when thousands poured in to receive rations and warm themselves.

Two buses available for people wanting to evacuate the city sat empty and idling in the parking lot. At the city’s main hospital, medics said no casualties were reported overnight and that the relative calm had allowed them to get some sleep.

But the shelling did not completely cease. A late-morning attack on one Avdiyivka neighborhood damaged three houses and a car. Malykhin said that 114 residential homes, including eight multicomplex apartment blocks and 22 individual apartments, have been damaged by shelling since January 29.

An RFE/RL correspondent heard sporadic booms of outgoing and incoming heavy artillery, but there were noticeably fewer of them before midday on February 4. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said in a statement that it had no information about casualties.

Dozens of people have been killed, including civilians, and scores injured in renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine since January 29. The UN and EU have issued urgent pleas for talks to prevent a "catastrophe" in a conflict that has killed more than 9,750 people since April 2014.

In Donetsk, the stronghold of the Russia-backed separatists fighting against Ukrainian government forces, several buildings, including a kindergarten, were reportedly damaged.

Yet Malykhin described the situation here on the morning of February 4 as "relatively calm" and "stabilized" compared to previous days.

Emergencies services workers around the city utilized the quiet time to work on restoring electricity and patching up damaged facades and broken windows, Malykhin said.

He added that he hoped the railway station, which he said had also sustained some damage from shelling, would also be repaired.

In old Avdiyivka village on the eastern edge of town, which has borne the brunt of the recent surge in hostilities, Valentyna Stetskova and Borya, who did not give his last name, were cooking buckwheat porridge in a field kitchen beside a church damaged by a mortar overnight.

Through thick steam swirling around them, they said they get their rations and other products from volunteers and humanitarian organizations upon whom they rely because fighting has caused food shortages in the city.

Life has been hard these past three years, they said, but especially in the past week. The heavy shelling had forced them to retreat to their basements.

"We are surviving," Stetskova said. "Surviving and nothing more."