Ukraine is waging counter offensives in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, and many Ukrainians who remain behind the Russian front line are anxiously waiting.
“We’re euphoric when Ukraine hits the occupied territories,” says Iryna, a resident of Melitopol in the south. “It means that Ukraine has not forgotten us. We all know that living near military infrastructure and buildings is not safe, so most civilians have moved out from those locations.”
But for people in the occupied territories, the longer they wait, the harder it is to survive. Many believed that the counter-offensive would happen in August. But when that didn’t happen, people started to flee towards Ukrainian-controlled territories and areas further to the West.
Among them was Tatyana Kumok from Melitopol. The Israeli citizen was visiting her hometown when the Russian invasion started in February. She stayed in the city and distributed aid to residents, but in September she and her family decided to leave. One of the main reasons for their decision was Russia’s promise to hold a so-called referendum.
“As soon as it’s done, the Russians will introduce new bans according to their laws and try to legitimise the occupation,” she says.
Even a silent resistance to Russian occupation is getting dangerous now.
In September many families were forced to send their children to Russian-administered schools even though their children would be exposed to the Kremlin’s propaganda.
“If you don’t send your child to school, it’s a litmus test for you – it means you have pro-Ukrainian views,” explains Ms Kumok. “I know parents who had to tell their seven-year-old child not to talk about things discussed at home with anyone at school. Otherwise the child could be taken away. That was really awful.”