Dnipro, Ukraine – Russia invaded Ukraine exactly one month ago.
In the southern city of Mariupol’s train station, hundreds tried to flee while those who stayed behind had no idea that weeks of a brutal siege were to come.
In subzero temperatures, long queues formed at cash machines and petrol stations. On the first night, families prayed and cried in a church, their children spending the first night of many to come on a rollout mattress underground.
The main hospital in Mariupol was overwhelmed in the first days of the war with civilians wanting to donate blood.
Nik, 28, who works in logistics, said he would never leave his city no matter what lied ahead and would do anything it took to help his people. “I don’t know how to hold a weapon, but at least I can give my blood this way,” he told Al Jazeera.
As the days went by, fighting moved closer and it became increasingly clear that staying in Mariupol would be a huge risk. On the route to Dnipro, there were tank tracks, burned-out vehicles, and villagers removing street signs to confuse Russian troops.
Dnipro has so far been spared the intense fighting seen in other cities nearby. As a result, there was time to quickly mobilise a volunteer army and teams to distribute humanitarian aid.
It has also become a filter city for people fleeing bombardment in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Volnovakha, and other parts of eastern Ukraine.
‘Special military operation’
People arrived tired, hungry, and scared. In nearby Zaporizhzhia, after more than a week of failed attempts to leave the siege of Mariupol after Russia broke agreed ceasefires, people arrived in automobiles that no longer had windows.
They told tales of a city on fire and unrelenting explosions, where bodies line the streets.
In Kharkiv, thousands were living a squalid life underground in the metro station amid endless attacks.
“Down here, we try not to talk about outside and instead concentrate on living,” mother of two Ina said. “But we can’t help but ask, how can something this bad happen in the modern world? We just can’t understand it.”
According to the UN, more than 10 million people have been displaced by the conflict while casualty figures are hard to estimate but are said to be in the thousands.
Russia claims its attack on Ukraine is part of a “special military operation” to “de-Nazify” the country. Dnipro’s Jewish community – a hub for reviving traditions following Soviet bans – is adamant the only fascism they have seen in their lifetime has been instigated by President Vladimir Putin.
The local Menorah Centre, which claims to be the largest Jewish community centre in the world, helps as many as 100 people a day find shelter after fleeing their homes.
The worst of the war can be seen at the children’s hospital in Zaporizhzhya, which takes in the most critical cases from across eastern Ukraine.
Marsha, 15, lost a leg in an artillery attack on her village – she survived because her mother covered her with her body. Her mother, too, had a leg blown off.
“After four surgeries, Marsha is much better but she panics when she hears loud noises,” her grandmother Valentyna Feshchenko said.
Yuriy Borzenko is the chief physician at the children’s hospital where critical cases from across eastern Ukraine are being treated.
“I don’t think anyone wants to see the things we see,” he told Al Jazeera.