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Fearing the attacks, the people of Kharkov hid underground

Afraid of attacks, the people of Kharkov hid underground - Photo 1.

Liliya Gritchina is living at Imeni Maselskoho metro station in Kharkov, Ukraine. Photo: NBC News

Liliya Gritchina, a 42-year-old seamstress, lives in an underground shack, next to column seven of the Imeni Maselskoho metro station in Kharkov. She said she has only seen the sun four times since Russia launched a special military operation.

Subway station poles are not usually numbered, but they have become temporary addresses for many people to shelter here.

“Once I came out of my shelter, I saw rockets in the sky. There were sirens and I was scared,” Gritchina said from her tent on the messy subway platform.

“I’ll never forget this sound. I’m so scared. I can’t leave this place until the sirens stop,” she added, wiping away tears.

Kharkov is Ukraine’s second largest city and has been hit by Russian attacks since the start of hostilities. In recent days, Kiev forces have been gradually retaking villages and suburbs to the north and east of the city.

The regional government plans to move about 5,000 people sheltering in the subway system to evacuation sites in the coming weeks. Even so, many locals are not ready to return to their former lives.

Fearing attacks, the people of Kharkov hid underground - Photo 2.

People reluctantly leave the Imeni Maselskoho metro station in Kharkov despite the successes of the Ukrainian army in driving Russian forces out of the city. Photo: NBC News

The underground air at Imeni Maselskoho station is thick and smells of sewage. Lots of mattresses and tents between the turnstiles and in the wagons. Coughs are heard from time to time while people sleep throughout the day. It’s hard to keep track of time without sunlight.

The numbers of a giant LED clock peeked out from above the dark tunnel mouth. The trains hadn’t moved for months.

Despite the gloom, people living at the metro station said they felt safe underground.

“I feel safe here, I can talk to people about my fears, about the shelling, about not wanting to go out. It seems like everyone feels the same way,” Gritchina said.

A woman puts flowers in a vase next to an easel, above which is a landscape painting with a bright blue sky. A man is tuning his guitar, he said that it is used to teach music to children here. Two other men sat playing cards. Mothers chat with each other and children run around playing badminton.

“This is a united community. Life is not very comfortable and there is no personal space, but everyone is shared and supported. If they go home they will have to be alone,” Yarolsava Volkova, 40 age, said.

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