“When my firewood is finished, I will lie down and die,” says 70-year-old Nadezhda Vasilievna as she unlocks the wooden door of her one-bedroom house in the eastern Ukrainian village of Lazove. She puts the plastic jerrycans she is carrying on the floor. She keeps her overcoat on. It is almost as cold inside the house as in the street.
Towns and villages in the Donetsk region have seen heavy fighting and shifting front lines in recent months. Residents are now facing a new threat: a bitter winter without heating, electricity and running water. Most houses are empty, but those who have opted to stay make quick repairs to their damaged homes and burn wood in stoves to stay warm.
In the village of Korovyi Yar, only 80 people remain, compared to a pre-war population of 400.
Tatiana and her 10-year-old son are the only remaining occupants of a 40-flat residential building heavily damaged by shelling. She has covered the broken windows of empty flats with plastic, trying to keep her apartment warm. On a small firewood stove, she warms rainwater to wash their clothes.
While the region is famous for its rich forests, collecting firewood poses a serious challenge because mines and unexploded munitions threaten anyone who steps off paved roads. To help people stay warm, the International Committee of the Red Cross delivers quick repair material and dry fuel bricks across the region.
When the trucks arrive in Dibrova village, about two dozen people come to collect the fuel bricks. Among them is Maria Trofimovna, 82, who lives with her husband and son in a garage after their house was destroyed.
“We are alone on our street,” she says as the din of combat can be heard in the distance. “All the neighbours have left. … My son keeps telling me not to worry, that we will rebuild everything.”
Olga Andreevna, 70, a resident of Lazove, had to move out of her house because she is unable to keep it warm. Coming back to check on it, she finds her cat sitting on the porch, waiting to be let in.
“I moved here in the ’80s, and I spent every penny I earned to improve this house,” she said. “How could I have thought my old age would be like this?”
This photo essay is provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross.