Small store a lifeline in Ukraine war zone
published : 31 Mar 2023 at 17:45
CHASIV YAR, Ukraine: With pink-painted walls, the small general store stocks a little bit of everything — from cheese to cigarettes to shampoo — providing a lifeline to local residents and soldiers.
The shop on a tree-lined road is one of the few remaining open in the heavily shelled town of Chasiv Yar near the frontline in eastern Ukraine.
Inside, shop assistant Liliya, 49, serves a stream of customers to the sound of outgoing and incoming fire.
Local people have no running water, gas or electricity.
They receive basic foodstuffs and bottles of water as humanitarian aid, but nevertheless "the most popular item is water", says store manager Artem.
Most of those who come in are elderly, bundled up in bulky coats on a snowy day, and they are frugal with their purchases.
"Do you have cottage cheese bars for 10 hryvnia (27 cents)? How much are Romashka (Camomile) chocolate sweets? How much are the cheapest?" asks an older woman in a headscarf and heavy overcoat.
"Our village grocery store is destroyed after shelling, so I have to come here," says one man.
"This is the last grocery store in Chasiv Yar. I come from far away, from Canal area," says a woman, referring to a massively shelled part of the town.
Store manager Artem estimates no more than 500 local residents are left here, mostly older without family elsewhere.
He helps customers without cash by taking their bank cards and pin numbers back to a nearby town with an ATM. He also goes to a pharmacy to buy their medicines, not charging them for his time.
"Those who profiteer from the war are not very good people," he says.
"People need to help each other. Before the war, maybe we didn't talk to each other. Since the war started we've all got friendlier."
Liliya agrees: "We help our people, even when we smile at each other. They say thanks and it's very nice to hear it."
'All ripped up'
Artem estimates 70 percent of customers are soldiers, who come in with guns on their backs.
One sets down a heavy box of bullets as he shops.
"I buy pies, water, sausage and firelighters here," says one soldier smoking outside in a woolly hat, complaining boxes of firelighters are too expensive at 90 hryvnias ($2.50).
Some soldiers go outside to pay online using their army internet. They then show a text message of confirmation.
Artem bangs the counter as he talks of his hatred of the war, which has destroyed his flat in the town.
"You were born here, you studied here, you met your love here, and the war just takes you and rips it all up," he says.
The 30-year-old in a hoodie and tracksuit bottoms is taking care of the shop for its owner, his aunt, who has left the town.
He spends the night in another town and rushes away as soon as the shop closes at three pm.
"It's scary. There have been several incoming strikes in front of the shop," he says.
Her hair neat and wearing earrings and pink lipstick, the cashier Liliya lives nearby and explains her decision to stay.
"First of all, I don't have the money (to leave). Also home is home."
Artem and his helper Oleksiy carry in a tray of fried potato pies, sold for 20 hryvnia each ($0.54), which they have picked up from a nearby village.
The supplier refused to come all the way to Chasiv Yar and Artem had to stop his car on the way because of shelling.
Many delivery drivers "are afraid to come here," he says, after several such vehicles were damaged.
"Not everyone wants to part with life literally in a few minutes."