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Sky's Mark Austin witnesses extraordinary moment of kindness amidst Kharkiv devastation

You will notice the first thing that you see when driving into Kharkiv, is that there is very little traffic.

This is a Ukrainian town that has been largely abandoned of its life: empty streets, demolished buildings and the constant sounds of war.

We walked through Freedom Square two days before the Russians invaded.

The square was struck by a missile and destroyed a building of the district council.


Its husk is still standing, with jackets still in the cloakrooms and charred office furniture scattered all over its floors. Many targets look exactly like this one, a civilian.

“15,000 Russian troops have been killed” since the invasion of Ukraine; Russia is ‘trying destroy supply routes’ – live updates

While Russian forces have begun to withdraw from Kyiv the second city of Ukraine, Kharkiv, continues to be subjected to intense bombardment.

According to the Ukrainian military, Russian troops are trying advance on its center – only 20 miles from Russia’s border – but they are being stopped. This means that there is more shelling and rocket attacks each day.

Roman is leading a group of volunteers who will meet us north of the city center to provide much-needed assistance to Saltivka, an area that has been most severely affected.

One northeastern suburb is home to bombed-out apartments blocks. Shocked survivors look around at their lives, and you can see the destruction everywhere. Although it is not a place for anyone to call home, a few people still live there.

Image An apartment block with shells in Saltivka (Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine

The people will be overcome when help arrives. A woman of elderly greets us with tears and gratitude.

“Thank you. She tells volunteers, “You were very brave to arrive here,” she says, unpacking a van, and then giving her crackers, biscuits and rice.

Ludmila Kyrichenko is her name. She will be 75 years old on May 1, and has lived in Saltivka for the past 30 years. She has been without electricity and running water for seven weeks.

Image Ludmila Kyrichenko was without electricity or running water for seven weeks in Saltivka.

Ludmila lived in the eighth building of the block of flats that was destroyed by the shelling before the war.

She now lives below ground in an area that would be considered too sophisticated to be called a basement.

It’s dark and damp, with dirt-covered floors. Her bed is made of old clothes and sleeping bags. The candles are her only light source, and they are quickly running out.

Image Ludmila is eating almost all of her food

Ihor Mihailchenko (51), takes us to his neighbor’s apartment, where he has taken pieces of the Russian missile that hit their building. Standing on a fragment of the wall that has collapsed, he light a cigarette and blasts the floor below.

In just 10 minutes, we heard three explosions during an exchange of artillery firing. Roman is not perplexed.

It’s not too difficult for this place. He said that it’s only the morning… “The Russians just need to wake up and do something.”

Image Situation on Day 61 of the Ukraine War

To prove his point, another organization captured a second attack in Saltivka on the same day. This time it was a hail of missile fire. It is relentless.

Ludmila says, “All I want” is a peaceful night sky. “A peaceful sky and fresh bread.”

Image Ludmila’s candles are running out

We found people everywhere we went, looking for Romans.

A man receives toothpaste and tells volunteers from another couple that he knows who need it. A can of meat and jelly is given to a stray dog.

Another elderly lady slowly moves towards us before we leave Saltivka. “Is it over?” Ludmila asks her.

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Putin declares that Donbas’ children are ‘human shields’.

Ludmila says it hasn’t but that help has come. Ludmila reveals that this woman is 94 and has been knocking at her door for quite some time.

In an amazing moment, Ludmila gives the woman the food she had been saving for herself.

Her neighbour says, “I don’t need it.”

“What does it mean that you don’t have it?” The answer is “What do you mean you don’t need it?”

Ludmila puts it in her bag, and both women are in tears.

Image Ludmila Kyrichenko (74) gives food to her 94 year-old neighbor

She was given food to sustain her, and she chose to share that food with someone else.

Saltivka is the last place they can call home.

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