Day after day, Russia attacks the megacity of Kharkiv. Our author lives there and talks about daily life without electricity and under constant bombing.

A woman holds a child by the hand and they run between destroyed buildings.

In a residential area of ​​Kharkiv after being attacked with Russian glide bombs last Sunday Photo: Ivan Samoilov/Getty Images

Kharkiv taz | Dmytro is mentally exhausted, but only has the strength to make some ironic remarks: “You can't attack the Russian oil refineries. And Taurus cruise missiles are not needed. So that, for the love of God, there are no attacks on Moscow. Putin cannot be provoked now; otherwise, he will end up attacking. What, he already attacked? Well, okay, we will send you 100,000 first aid kits. But morally we are on your side, strong and unwavering.”

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On March 22, the Russian military fired more than 20 rockets at two thermal power plants in the Kharkiv region and three large substations in the city itself, destroying virtually all of the region's energy supplies. For this reason, the city, which with 1.5 million inhabitants is approximately the size of Munich, has been in a kind of darkness for three weeks. There is no quick fix in sight when it comes to energy. Because it is clear to everyone that it would be useless to repair power systems in the almost complete absence of serious air defense.

“I can't go home now because there is no electricity in our house. “You just can't live with two small children,” complains Lilija, a 35-year-old mother who was forced to move to a suburb because of the bombing. She says there is no gas or hot water in her apartment in the city. The heating also failed in March. The Russians have created conditions that make life with small children in Kharkiv impossible.

That's why families now have to live apart, as they did at the beginning of the big attack two years ago. The men stay in the city to work, while the women try to find a safer place to live outside with their children. “They are basically driving children out of Kharkiv, depriving the city of its future,” says Lilija.

Bombs that can fly to every corner of the city.

In addition to energy infrastructure, Russian armed forces in Kharkiv also fire rockets at residential areas. On March 27, for the first time since the beginning of the war, there was an attack with gliding bombs, that is, simple aerial bombs that were equipped with wings and a rudimentary navigation system and that, after being launched by fighter jets, independently glide upwards. 40 kilometers from the objective. This greatly worsens the security situation in Kharkiv because bombs can fly to virtually every corner of the city.

The destructive power of these Russian weapons is currently as great as the impunity for their use. Russian pilots fly to the city limits and drop bombs from there, often over residential areas. In the past two weeks, Russian bombing has injured dozens of civilians and killed some, including a 14-year-old teenager.

“Since they started bombing Kharkiv with glide bombs, entering the city has become really terrible. You don't know at all where they are going,” says Lilija, adding that one of these bombs flew past her apartment in Kharkiv at a distance of only 150 meters. The explosion destroyed the balcony door.

Oksana, a 29-year-old saleswoman, says she doesn't suffer as much from power outages because she has generators at work. For children, on the other hand, there are no longer school classes without electricity, because they have been online for a long time. “As a result, school classes are severely affected. Actually that's what worries me the most. The teacher reacts very flexibly, tries to postpone the lesson accordingly, but the problem persists,” says Oksana.

A life of constant tension

Oksana has noticed the intensification of the attacks, but her behavior does not change at all because of it. She intentionally did not subscribe to Telegram channels that provide information about rocket launches or aerial bombs in Kharkiv. This makes her tired and anxious; She no longer wants to live under this constant tension. She also has no plans to leave Kharkiv because she has a job in the city.

Oleksandr works as a turner in one of the large factories in Kharkiv. The 27-year-old knows that on April 9, the Russian armed forces bombed his factory with two aerial bombs, destroying the workshops. Some of his companions were injured. “From the noise I realized that they were not rockets. Rockets sound completely different. If there is an air alert now, I will immediately seek shelter somewhere. In a door, in a hole, somewhere. Here everyone experiences it differently, but now we all have to get to safety more often,” he says.

At the same time, Oleksandr is also very concerned about the bombing of Kharkiv's energy infrastructure. “After one of the attacks, I was without gas for more than a month. It has recently started working again. Constantly eating fast food, which costs much more than cooking it yourself. And it depresses morale. All these closures and blackouts, plus the bombings,” he admits. But he has no plans to leave Kharkiv either.

“I never thought I would say something like that, but I want to go to work. I don't want to leave yet. I like Kharkiv, it's great here. Whether something flies through the air or not, my soul finds peace here. If I go somewhere else, new problems and tasks arise. “I'm not leaving,” the 27-year-old says.

Waiting for anti-aircraft systems from Europe

People want to live in Kharkiv, despite Russia's continued efforts to destroy all of the city's life support systems. And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky personally came to Kharkiv on April 9 and said the government was working to get anti-aircraft systems from Europe.

Indeed, Europe should be able to do this, as the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, said this week at the European New Economy Forum in Barcelona. “I spoke with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, a few days ago and he urgently requested seven Patriot anti-aircraft systems to defend the country from him.

It cannot be a convincing argument that we cannot provide them, considering that European armies have about a hundred such systems. And yet, we are not supposed to be able to deliver seven of them, even though they ask for it so urgently,” said the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

“Ukrainians cannot avoid destruction. We need to do more and faster to enable them to do this.

Translated from Russian Gaby Coldewey