Residents queue to receive food and water brought in by Ukraine's State Emergency Service members, in Chasiv Yar
Residents queue to fill up bottles with fresh drinking water brought in to a neighbourhood near the frontline after critical civil infrastructure was hit amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine March 21, 2023. Reuters

It was finally time for Vasyl Kurlyshchuk to leave.

When Ukraine's State Emergency Service evacuation team arrived outside the gate of his small home in the eastern village of Kalynivka on Tuesday, the 74-year-old began slowly sorting through his papers and faded picture albums.

A neighbour, Vera, came to say goodbye. She was going to stay in the settlement and wanted to know if Kurlyshchuk was taking his solar powered battery with him. He decided he would, so she left, bidding farewell.

Outside, the loud boom of outgoing artillery from Ukrainian positions and rumble of incoming shells fired from Russia's side of the frontlines less than 4 km (2.5 miles) to the east were a reminder of the dangers of staying.

Kurlyshchuk had lived in the house for more than 20 years, but now he planned to head to Kyiv, to join his son who left six weeks earlier. Not knowing when it will be safe to return, he bundled together his documents and black and white photos.

Collecting him was a team of rescue workers led by Artur Spytsyn, head of the emergency prevention department of the Bakhmut branch of the national State Emergency Service.

Just to the east of Kalynivka, Bakhmut is a city that since August has become the 13-month war's bloodiest battleground between Russian and Ukrainian forces, with thousands of soldiers on both sides killed there.

Himself a Bakhmut native, Spytsyn is one of dozens of officials and volunteers who risk their lives daily to get people out of dangerous places near the frontlines.

"In general, everyone is evacuating," the 32-year-old told Reuters inside Kurlyshchuk's home.

"The only question is the time and conditions of evacuation. Now people have the opportunity to pack, to think about what to take with them," he said, adding that this was preferable to leaving at the last minute.

Emergency service employees have evacuated more than 10,000 people from settlements in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24 last year, with many more families finding a way out on their own or with the help of volunteers.


Many elderly residents of Kalynivka and the town of Chasiv Yar next door, both subsumed in the conflict as Russian forces inch westward in a bid to encircle the city of Bakhmut, say they have nowhere to go and no desire to leave.

What is now ordinary for the hundreds who remain in Chasiv Yar out of a pre-war population of some 13,000 would be extraordinary elsewhere.

No one flinches when cannons in and around the town fire towards the Russians.

Many houses and administrative buildings have been badly damaged, and people rely on humanitarian aid and water distribution points to get by. On Tuesday, Reuters reporters saw a house on fire in the town after it had been hit.

Amid the noise of war, Olena, who gave only her first name, sat on a bench outside her apartment block and chatted to two friends. They had made tea and soup together earlier in the day on a small outdoor wood fire.

"Vera was evacuated to Poltava but a lot of people have stayed," said the 67-year-old, pointing to pictures on her smartphone of her friend, who had left Chasiv Yar for a safer place.

"We would love to see each other again, but that is war."

Her eyes filled with tears as her neighbour Valerii Zolotov was carried out of the building on a blanket and into the emergency services' armoured security truck, originally designed to ferry cash to and from banks.

Two other residents also climbed into the vehicle, making a last-minute decision to go.

That meant three fewer familiar faces for Olena and her friends as they carried on in Chasiv Yar.