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‘We’re the one connection’: The postal workers risking their lives to get pensions to Ukraine’s elderly



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Siversk, Ukraine

Each jiffy the bottom shakes as blasts echo by the battered streets of Siversk, in jap Ukraine’s Donetsk area. Typically it’s outgoing Ukrainian hearth, typically the Russians firing again.

An aged girl in black pants, heavy sneakers, and a grimy gray overcoat and scarf shuffles up the road. One other explosion rings out. She flinches, her eyes open vast, however she doesn’t miss a step. She joins a crowd of a number of dozen, largely aged residents bundled up towards the chilly.

The roads are lined with mud and rubble thrown up by numerous incoming rounds. The few automobiles should swerve round water-filled craters the place bombs fell. The higher flooring of some condo blocks have been diminished to rubble and barely a window on the road is undamaged. Phone and electrical wires snake alongside the bottom, lengthy lifeless.

On the sting of the gang, standing alone, is 72-year-old Lubov Bilenko. Her face is flat, devoid of emotion, her darkish eyes with out expression – the thousand-mile stare.

“After all, we have been very scared earlier than,” she says in a low voice. “Now we’re used to it,” she says of the shelling. “We don’t even concentrate anymore.”

Siversk resident Lubov Bilenko, 72, ventured out to collect her monthly pension payment.

Bilenko tells CNN she has ventured out of her condo, the place she lives alone, to the principle street to gather her month-to-month pension, delivered to city by a cell unit of Ukrposhta, the Ukrainian Postal Service. Bilenko’s pension is simply in need of $80 a month. It’s simply sufficient to purchase a little bit of meals from one of many few retailers nonetheless open.

The little yellow-and-white Ukrposhta van involves Siversk as soon as a month.

Anna Fesenko, a blonde girl with a fast smile, heads the cell unit. As she and her colleagues test paperwork towards a listing of recipients and hand out money, Anna coaxes a smile and an occasional chuckle from weary city residents.

Fesenko says she has been with Ukrposhta for 15 years. These years of predictable, methodical postal work didn’t put together her for what she does now.

“I may by no means have imagined such a nightmare,” she tells CNN.

A resident walks near his house destroyed by Russian shelling, in Siversk, in Ukraine's Donetsk region, on November 6, 2022.

Earlier than heading the cell unit, Fesenko labored on the publish workplace in Bakhmut, about 22 miles south of Siversk. However in mid-fall the preventing across the city grew to become so intense that she and her colleagues there needed to evacuate.

She understands her job isn’t just handy out pensions: It’s to remind the folks in Siversk they haven’t been forgotten. “I believe we’re the one one connection between them and the remainder of the world,” she says.

Not everybody, nevertheless, is prepared to even go exterior.

“I dwell inside a 20-minute stroll from right here, however my spouse is afraid to return right here,” says 63-year-old Volodymyr, who declined to present his full title, pulling on a cigarette earlier than becoming a member of the road.

“My spouse informed me to not spend our pension on cigarettes,” he chuckles, taking one other deep drag.

Olha, a pensioner in Siversk, insists she will not leave her

Olha, 73, has made it to the entrance. Like so many dwelling within the battle zone, she has spent months huddling with others within the basement of her condo constructing. It’s a cramped, uncomfortable existence. But she is prepared to place up with it.

“I used to be born right here,” she says, nodding her head ahead for emphasis. “That is my motherland.”

Then, one more loud blast. Olha barely notices. “I cannot go wherever. What can be, can be.”

Overseeing the operation is the top of the Siversk army administration, Oleksi Vorobiov. He’s nervous that so many individuals have gathered out within the open.

An older man walks amid destruction in a civilian neighborhood in Siversk on October 3, 2022.

Russian forces are simply throughout a large valley, occupying hills seen from the pension distribution level. They’re about 10 kilometers (six miles) to the north.

Vorobiov urges folks to maneuver again, to unfold out “on your personal security.” They ignore him.

“We are attempting to decide on the best time and place,” Vorobiov says of the pension handout. Meaning each time the cell unit comes, it’s a distinct place and time to keep away from being focused by the Russians.

“However that is battle,” he provides. “At this time it’s like this” – he nods to the gang ready in line – “and tomorrow it may be completely completely different.”

We left Siversk round midday. The distribution was solely midway executed.

An hour later a Russian artillery spherical slammed into the bottom only a block away, Fesenko, the postal official, informed us by cellphone.

Nobody was injured, she mentioned, however she and her colleagues allotted with formalities. They shortly handed out the money they may to these nonetheless ready, she mentioned, and left.