Ukrainians hit Russian positions on Snake Island with military drone, video shows

Warm spring air is coming to eastern Ukraine. Roads are lined with red tulips and people are reopening their summer kitchens, small buildings outside traditional homes used to insulate heat and cooking smells during the warmer months.

It was in her elderly mother’s timber-framed summer kitchen that Ludmilla, 69, was chatting with her brother Victor, 72, who passed through Vitya in the eastern town of Lysychansk last week. Despite near-constant shelling from Russian troops a few miles away, they had remained in their family home since the invasion of Ukraine in late February.

“My brother and I were talking,” said Ludmilla, who asked CNN to use only her first name for privacy reasons. “Suddenly the graduates started falling one by one.” The windows were blown out of their frames. “Everything was cracking.”

She remembers the initial shock and confusion. “We are there, my brother is making the sign of the cross and I am shouting. I turned away from him to look at the house, then another explosion occurred and I was trapped under the rubble.”

Ludmilla was momentarily blinded. Blood was streaming from her face and lacerations on her hands and feet, but she was alive. She felt the touch of a neighbor, who pulled her to safety in her basement. Fortunately, her 96-year-old mother remained unscathed.

“I ask, ‘How is my brother, how is Vitya?’ And the neighbor hides his eyes and says, “It’s fine.

“I said to him: ‘Vova, I don’t believe it. If it was okay, he would have come to see us.’

“He says, ‘It’s okay, sit down’ and walks out. And his wife is sitting next to me and says, ‘Luda, he doesn’t know how to tell you. Vitya is dead.

“That’s it. And my brother would be 73 on May 6. And that was it.”

Death and loss are far from the only traumas in this Russian-speaking region. For many, the war disrupted any remaining relationship with Russia. According to a survey carried out last year by the kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 43% of Ukrainians say they have relatives in Russia.

Even in the Russian-speaking east, that camaraderie had already waned since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and support for separatist movements. With this war, a story of pain is highlighted: millions of deaths due to famine and forced Soviet collectivization and attempts, for decades, to destroy Ukrainian culture and the Ukrainian language.

It’s hard to identify with someone if they believe Russian President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda – that the military is carrying out a small, targeted operation that avoids civilian casualties. It may be even harder to understand if they don’t believe your neighbors, brothers and friends are being killed.

Ludmilla’s son, along with his sister and her sister’s family, all live in Russia.

“My granddaughter had a fight with my own sister’s granddaughter,” Ludmilla explained. “She said, ‘What are you making up? You shoot yourself and lie,’ adding that “a lot of people” in Russia don’t believe what’s really going on in his country.

“It’s Putin’s policy. Zombification,” Ludmilla said.

Russia’s ability to conquer all of Donbass – the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk – remains an unanswered question after its army’s disappointing performance in the first months of the war.

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