Ghost cities and patriots: The lonely road to Ukraine’s battered Bakhmut region

Often driving alone, sometimes with a small group, Seva Koshel is no stranger to frontline supply drops into eastern Ukraine.

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From medical kits to modified army vehicles and more recently, generators, the 40-year-old military volunteer completes regular assignments for Ukrainian soldiers positioned at the very spear-tip of the fight against Russia.

In the last eight months, now part-time CEO Seva has witnessed everything from war crimes to deadly air attacks. He has also suffered the loss of fallen comrades.

After eight months of fighting, war and its associated horrors have become something of a grim routine. But this week, at the end of a lonely road that leads to one of the war’s fiercest battlegrounds, there’s a surprise – unshakable resolve in the form of Russian-speaking Ukrainian fighters.

Smoke rises on the outskirts of Kyiv during a missile attack

“If I say to someone [in Kyiv or in Ukraine] ‘Bakhmut district’, they understand that it’s one of the most difficult places to fight,” he explains in the latest episode of the Sky News Ukraine War Diaries podcast. The city of Bakhmut is part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region, which Seva has visited several times as part of his volunteering.

“In Donetsk, there have been a lot of guys whom I met [who are] from [Bakhmut] and, they’re a bit jealous at the commander of the armed forces because we are de-occupying south of Ukraine and they are dreaming when we will de-occupy Donetsk and Luhansk and to say, honestly, I have never seen such patriots.

“They are Russian-speaking, but they hate Russia, [despite being] connected with Russia even more than we [are] here in Kyiv or the western part of Ukraine.

“For me it was quite a surprise.”

This week, Russia escalated its air attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, targeting yet more power stations but also water supplies – a double-tap pitched to weaken national resolve ahead of the winter.

Military volunteer Seva Koshel pictured during a supply drop to a Ukrainian tank battalion in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine
Military volunteer Seva Koshel pictured during a supply drop to a Ukrainian tank battalion in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine

But on the road to Bakhmut, which is within lands now declared sovereign by Russia, Seva found himself driving through urban centres largely impervious to this strategy because many civilians have already left.

“When you’re driving through this region, it’s really interesting to watch how life is going on,” he says. “I’ve passed two quite big cities – Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

“There are a lot of block posts and [but] I have seen almost no civilians in this city.”

From the creators of Sky News’ award-winning StoryCast, Ukraine War Diaries is a weekly podcast following those living on Europe’s new frontline, and those who have escaped it.

Producer: Robert Mulhern

Digital promotion and additional writing: David Chipakupaku

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