Vladimir, 70, Ukraine

Seventy-year-old Vladimir is newly arrived from Debaltseve, the scene of fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine.

He sits in a dormitory shared with others from the town. He can only walk slowly because of a recent stroke and is paralysed down his left hand side.

Vladimir fled his home to escape the fighting.

(c) Iva Zimova/HelpAge International

Vladimir fled his home to escape the fighting.

“I had no time to pack anything,” he said. “I just had to leave. My son arranged for me to come out in a taxi. Some people went out in a bus which was hit and several people died. One of my sons has stayed behind to protect the property but he is living with six other men in the basement to avoid the shelling.

No water or electricity

“We have been calling him to find out how he is – they’ve got no water, no electricity and they can’t sleep because of the bombing. Part of the building has been destroyed and they have to go up to the second floor to boil water. People are cooking outside on fires because there is no gas supply.

“Between us our family had four flats in Debaltseve but I don’t know what condition they’re in. When I was leaving, the nearest three streets were on fire and had been completely destroyed.

His son Sasha who was sharing the dormitory with him said some acquaintances went to fetch water and were killed by a shell. Hungry dogs circled and so neighbours covered them with corrugated iron.

“There’s a lady here who said her husband is a policeman who stayed behind. They managed to catch a goat and eat it because they were so hungry.

Registered refugees

“When the tanks came in, they evacuated a group of people but this was just show for the TV cameras. After the cameras had gone, they refused to allow people to leave.

“I saw someone walking along the street with a handful of gold rings and asked him where he’d got them from. He said, ‘What do you think?’

“I’ve lived in Debaltseve all my life. We all speak Russian. No one had a problem with that. We never wanted to be separated from Ukraine.

The family have registered as refugees and have received 400 Ukrainian Hryvnias, or about US$12 each. They were expecting to receive some food aid later that day.

“We have someone waiting in the queue and they’re nearly there,” he said.

His father, Vladimir is one of many refugees living at Yastrebok, a summer sports camp for children, in the woods outside Svyatogorsk, being used as temporary housing for refugees.

As we walked along the corridor to leave, a deeply agitated woman rushed up to us with a small dog and a picture of her daughter. She told us she had been killed running away from Deboltseve. She had died with her dog in her arms.

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