A City on the Frontlines: Kupiansk’s Battle for Control
The billboard at the main entrance of Kupiansk tells a story of Ukrainian struggle in a region that has become a key battleground. The city, located on the 750-mile front line, proudly proclaims “Kupiansk is Ukraine!!!” to anyone entering its borders. However, the other side of the sign reveals the urgency behind this proclamation. It features an armed soldier in front of a helicopter, accompanied by a phone number and a question: “Do you have information about traitors to Ukraine?” This illustrates the delicate nature of Ukrainian control and the fear of infiltration in the region.
Kupiansk’s Past and Present
Kupiansk, situated just 25 miles from the Russian border, swiftly fell to Moscow’s forces at the beginning of the war. It remained under occupation for six months before being recaptured in a swift operation by Ukrainian forces in the Kharkiv region. However, while attention is largely focused on the Ukrainian counteroffensive further south, Russian forces are mounting an offensive in the north, aiming to regain control of these territories. Kupiansk, as a strategically important city and former logistical center for the Russian military, finds itself in the crosshairs once again.
The Worsening Situation
The situation in Kupiansk has reached a critical point, leading regional authorities to announce the mandatory evacuation of residents in the district. The fear of a second occupation and the return of the forces who terrorized the city for six months looms large. Many residents, including business owner Liudmila Sezonova, who stayed during the occupation as a Ukrainian patriot, are preparing for the worst.
A City Under Siege
Despite the heavy bombardment and destruction of the city center, individuals like Sezonova and her family chose to stay and weather the storm. Their determination to reclaim and rebuild Kupiansk keeps them rooted in their homeland. However, now that the fighting is less than five miles away, they face increased danger as Russian forces intensify artillery attacks in the area. Although Sezonova has not yet evacuated, she has packed bags for herself and her family in case they need to flee at a moment’s notice.
A Lingering Distrust
For those who supported Ukraine during the occupation, the fear of Russian rule returning is intertwined with distrust and resentment towards alleged collaborators. With only about a fifth of the prewar population remaining, some community members suspect their neighbors of being Russian sympathizers. The divided loyalties and mistrust make it difficult to re-establish a sense of normalcy and trust within the city.
A City in Struggle
The ongoing conflict has made it challenging for Kupiansk to rebuild and recover. Although basic utilities have been restored, the city’s administration has undergone significant changes, leaving many positions vacant. The Shapovals, a retired couple, express the difficulty of trusting others due to the lingering divisions in their community. The absence of many market vendors in Kupiansk reflects the impact of the occupation and the dwindling population willing to remain in the city.
A Desperate Hope for Peace
Despite the challenges, the people of Kupiansk long for an end to the war. However, they acknowledge that the conflict is far from over. Explosions continue to echo in the distance as they sell their goods in a makeshift market near the sports stadium. Ordinary citizens have grown accustomed to the shelling, but they remain ready to flee at a moment’s notice, aware that no place in Ukraine is entirely safe.
Kupiansk stands as an example of the tenuous nature of Ukrainian control in a region heavily affected by the conflict. The city remains on the frontlines, battling to uphold its Ukrainian identity while facing the imminent threat of a Russian offensive. The resilience and determination of the people of Kupiansk continue to be tested as they navigate the complexities of war and strive for a peaceful future.