Information warfare fuels civilian concerns in Lysytchansk

LA small radio station whistles the latest news about Russia’s victories in Ukraine. In the darkness of their cellars, under a kindergarten in Lyssytchansk, six women and a man wonder whether to believe them. They even wonder where the soldiers passing through their cellars are on.

What they are sure of is that the kindergarten in this town, very close to the Donbass front line, was hit by a volley from Grad a few days ago. And an unexploded rocket is now placed outside the door of their shelter. Their fears oscillate between the possibility that their only access to the outside world might be suddenly blocked by the debris, and the sudden descent of Russian forces into their bunkers.

“The Russians on the radio said they took Bakhmout. Is that true?” He asks Natalia Georgievna in agony, referring to a place still under Ukrainian control, some fifty kilometers to the southwest.

“We really don’t know anything,” whispers her neighbor, Viktoria Viktorovna, sitting on a corner bed, out of sight of the single beam of light that illuminates one end of the cellar. “I believe the Ukrainians are still here, right?”

– Conflicting bulletins

Nearly three months’ war has turned Lyssytchansk, a mostly Russian-speaking mining town of about 100,000 inhabitants, into an abandoned area without water, electricity or telephone networks.

Most of the remaining residents leave the bunkers after the afternoon bombardments and head directly to the small spring in the north of the city. There they fill bottles of water that must be boiled before drinking.

Some women in the kindergarten cellar—who gave their protective names instead of their family names for fear of retaliation—said they hadn’t been out in the open air for two months.

The contradictory news bulletins—depending on whether they are Russian or Ukrainian—from the small radio station fuel feelings of loneliness and fear, sometimes to the point of paranoia.

The Kremlin has been broadcasting its news vision in eastern Ukraine since 2014, when pro-Russian separatist forces backed by Moscow took control of parts of Donbass.

“The Russians say they won, and the Ukrainians too,” said Natalia Georgievna. “We used to be able to watch the news when we had the Internet, but now… we have no idea who’s behind these voices or where they’re coming from.”

Locals believe that Grads volleyball, which fell on the kindergarten earlier this week, was diverted to a school across the garden where Ukrainian soldiers are stationed.

The presence of the military in civilian buildings is one of the controversial issues fueling the information war: among residents, some are angry with the Ukrainian army, while others say they have no other choice in the face of Russian forces attacking their city.

– “We no longer know which side they are on” –

Lyssychansk is very close to the front. The Russians are approaching Severodonetsk from three directions, separated from Lyssytchansk only by the Siverskyi Donets river. The Ukrainians put all their forces into battle to prevent the Russian forces from overtaking it.

Witnessing the concerns of residents, little 53-year-old Oleg Zaïtsev is as concerned about the bombings as he is about the identity of gunmen crossing the deserted streets.

“I’m especially afraid that a stranger will stop me and ask for my documents. We don’t know which side they’re on anymore,” he said before returning to his bunker. “It could be the Russians and who knows what will happen,” he said.

In the cellar of the kindergarten, Evguen Poltchikha is afraid of him, especially the explosion of the rocket, left standing on the ground in front of the bunker door.

“It stays there. Our kindergarten looks solid enough. But you never know,” she says.

05/15/2022 11:38:17 – Lysytchansk (Ukraine) (AFP) – © 2022 AFP