‘Almost unimaginable’: Village of Vuhledar broken by ‘endless’ war

In eastern Ukraine, the Russian winter offensive has had little success so far. The gains on the ground are small, and the losses are high. This applies, for example, to the fighting around the town of Vuhledar, 50 kilometres from the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk.

Vuhledar, a former stronghold of coal mining, is now home to only about 1,000 inhabitants. The sight and condition of the city are shocking. Not a single building can be found that does not show severe damage. 

The living conditions are extremely difficult, probably almost unimaginable for Central Europeans. Drinking water is also lacking; there is no cooker or electricity to boil snow in some places.

There was little sign of the Ukrainian armed forces around and in Vuhledar. Their artillery fire on Russian positions was constantly audible; counterfire could be heard. The name of the town, loosely translated as “coal gift”, still reminds one of the once great importance of the heavy industry.

Just as desolate as in Vuhledar is the situation on the other side of the front line, a few kilometres away. Not a single soul is to be seen; the war also scars these villages. 

Whether the inhabitants will ever return is questionable; what is certain is that Vuhledar and most of the towns in the Donetsk Basin will probably never regain the economic importance they had in Ukraine before the war.

ORF reporter Christian Wehrschütz accompanies the baker Oleg and his employee Viktor in Vuhledar. Together, they bring 1,500 loaves of bread baked the night before from Pokrovsk, an hour’s drive away.

On the way, they had to pass several Ukrainian army checkpoints. A few kilometres before reaching their destination, they put on flak jackets and helmets, because Vuhledar is a war zone and artillery fire is possible at any time.

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