LYSYCHANSK, Ukraine – A mass grave was not found on the edge of this eastern Ukrainian city. There are dirty mounds and yellow-petaled weeds around a pit filled with a dozen or more body bags. In the hot summer air they embrace death.
The dead were civilians killed by shelling in recent months in the cities of Lisychinsk and Siverodonetsk and the nearby town of Rubisne. Since there are no relatives to bury their bodies, they are piled together.
Standing above the grave, Pvt. Sergei Veklenko, 41, explained why the bodies were still exposed: “All the machinery we had in the city cargo – excavations and all – was donated to the military for digging trenches.”
As the war enters its fourth month, it is clear that the trenches have become the graves of many soldiers, as the death toll in Ukraine and Russia has risen sharply to thousands.
Weklenko, a former police officer who joined the Ukrainian army when the war began, estimates that 300 people were buried in mass graves. “We have been burying the dead here since April,” he said.
The tomb is located near a range of mountains and is now home to the Ukrainian artillery that protects the city. Howitzers were fired throughout Thursday morning.
The number of civilians killed in the two cities separated by the Shivarsky Donets River in Lyczynsk and Siverodonetsk is unknown. As Russia consolidates its control over the Siverodonetsk and shifts its focus to neighboring Lysyansk, civilian casualties there will surely increase unless Ukrainian forces retreat.
On Thursday, local authorities announced that at least four people had been killed in a Russian airstrike in Licensing. The attack took place in the morning, but it took several hours to publish the news on the official telegram channels, highlighting the difficulty in reporting what was happening in the city.
Lysychansk, an industrial city with a pre-war population of 100,000, is largely isolated from the outside world without cell service or electricity. Local officials estimate there are 40,000 people in the city, but there is no way to know the exact number.
Reasons for their stay include the need to care for elderly relatives and, in some cases, reluctance to part ways with pets.
“Not every person wants to leave their home,” said a woman who came out of her home on Thursday to pick up supplies from a group of police officers and soldiers. “What about cats and dogs? What about adults? So we’re sitting here.
“You have to have a lot of money to get out and pay the rent,” she said, giving only her first name to Luda. “They do not allow pets in the rental apartment. I have two dogs and two cats, how do I get rid of them? It’s not a wish, and then crying after them.
He said two people in his vicinity were killed in the shelling a week ago. They were buried in the nearby woods, and their graves were marked with withered flowers.
In Siverodonetsk, about 500 civilians took refuge in a large chemical plant, while Ukrainian forces fought fiercely in some parts of the city, which is still under control. Authorities estimate 10,000 civilians are staying there.
Since the destruction of the three bridges connecting the two cities, there has been no easy escape for Ukrainian forces in Siverodonetsk. On Thursday, it was reported that Ukrainian troops crossing the river had begun to retreat to protect the lysine on high ground.
To the troops and civilians in Lysychansk, a question remains: what comes next?
A group of Ukrainian soldiers who had taken refuge in the basement of an apartment building expressed hope that the advanced rocket systems promised by the United States would soon arrive. The long range of the rockets will allow Russian artillery to strike positions. But the soldiers said that the Russian artillery would not stop until the weapons arrived.
“An hour feels like a whole day,” said one soldier.