Kharkiv, Ukraine – Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv has witnessed relentless bombardment by Russian forces since the start of the war nearly a month ago.
The barrage of artillery shelling has laid waste to residential areas and government buildings, leaving dozens dead and wounded. On Sunday, five people – including a nine-year-old boy – were killed in a Russian artillery attack, according to local authorities in the northeastern city, about 50km (31 miles) from the border with Russia and home to many Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
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“The centre of the city is frozen like a page in history, standing still for the world to see,” Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from Kharkiv, describing it as one ridden with “apocalyptic scenes” of bombed-out buildings with windows gutted out and rubble strewn across the desolate streets.
The United Nations says the war has forced as many as 10 million people to flee their homes, either to other countries or to seek shelter somewhere else within Ukraine.
A large number of Kharkiv’s 1.5 million residents have also left, but Maria Adveeva, a research director at the European Expert Association, has refused to do so.
She said she wanted to stay behind to document what the Russian forces have been doing to her city, which has remained under Ukrainian control despite the constant bombardment.
Walking down one of the main streets, now empty and littered with rubble, mangled cars and twisted steel, Adveeva reminisced about life before Russia invaded on February 24.
“I have so many memories here, there were cafés, bars and restaurants,” she said.
“My friends were living in houses [on the street],” she added. “There’s no place they can come back to.”
At least 500 buildings – including hospitals and schools – have been destroyed, Kharkiv’s mayor said. Meanwhile, food is running out.
“I wish the war to end soon so that our children can live,” an elderly woman said, her voice breaking with desperation. “May Putin be gone.”
As the sounds of artillery fill the sky, people head to underground stations to hunker down for the night. Every space is taken, including inside the trains.
“I’m sleeping here,” said Anastasia Gumovskaya, a Kharkiv resident. “We took the mattress and pumped it up. Some people sleep here or on the floor. We also eat here. The food is so-so. Volunteers bring it to us.”
Al Jazeera’s Baig said that despite Kharkiv’s “historical heart being ripped out”, there was still hope among those who have stayed behind for an end to the war.
“People here think that one day soon, the damage can be fixed and buildings reconstructed,” he said. “But the impact of the war and the minds of the people in Kharkiv will be harder to overcome.”