This is one in a series of periodical letters about life in the midst of the war in Ukraine.
PREOBRAZHENKA, UKRAINE – Quiet at first glance, this small village in southeastern Ukraine appears to be a typical Ukrainian village with plentiful fields and lovingly tended yards. But she was not spared from the war.
“At night it is silent, so we hear bombing in the distance,” said Tamara, 59, a resident, who asked to be identified only by her first name to avoid unwanted attention. “During the day we grow as many vegetables as we can – no one knows what winter will bring.”
When Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine began in February last year, she and the three daughters she raises moved into her basement, because it was “noisy and scary outside”. But within days, they realized it was impossible to live there in the freezing cold.
“Many of the villagers left when it all started, but eventually most of them came back,” said Tamara. “Here we have our own house, garden and vegetables, but what will you do away from here without money and a house? So we stayed.”
Days later, the bombing seriously injured three people in Preobrazhenka, according to local authorities.
But she was as calm as Tamara spoke. Her granddaughters were helping in the garden and playing with their little dog, Javelin. They were well aware that the village had already held two funerals for soldiers killed fighting the invaders, and that a third was coming. “We are not sure if we will go to the funeral tomorrow, but you will know where you will be, and everyone will be there,” said the youngest, Yana, 9.
Another villager, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Yuri, 69, was joking and laughing until he started talking about his family. One of his sons is on the front line.
On the day of the third funeral, the village was crowded from early morning. People lined up along the main avenue, carrying flowers and flags, waiting for the funeral procession so they could say goodbye to Ruslan Serenkov, 37, a machine gunner who died on June 5 during a combat mission near Bakhmut.
His widow, Nadia Serenkova, 34, is now facing raising their two children, Sofia, 8, and Elia, 12.
Of her husband, she said, “I can’t talk about him now.” “I can’t imagine my life without him.”
Misfortune was not alien to the Serenkov family. His mother, Asya, 81, is from Kazakhstan, and his father, Petro, 72, is from Belarus. After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 sent radioactivity to Belarus, they fled their home there in the town of Homel, to start a new life in Preobrazhenka.
Asya Serenkov said that her son loved the army. Shortly before his death, she said: “Mom, you can’t imagine how many good people there are. I should have gone to the army much earlier.
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