“Every day I walk on a razor’s edge, but I can’t stop,” Olga said, holding back tears.
She tells Sky News about the intimidation she faces from Russian troops in her hometown on Ukrainefrom the south coast.
It has now been more than three months since Vladimir Putin’s forces took over the place where she grew up.
In a few days of Russian When the troops arrived, the city’s politicians were removed from their posts and replaced by Russian sympathizers. Food prices have now skyrocketed and medicines are increasingly difficult to access.
Many of those who remained in the city are vulnerable: elderly people, people with disabilities, people with little money.
Olga, like many others in the newly occupied towns, felt compelled to help them.
Using encrypted messaging apps, Sky News spoke to civilian volunteers in towns and villages across Russian-occupied Ukraine about their experiences. Their names have been changed for security reasons.
Olga asked us not to identify the city where she lives, for her own safety.
Since early March, she says she and four other people have delivered food and medicine to more than 1,650 people.
“My stepfather lives in a village 60 miles from here. I couldn’t get him to come when the war broke out,” she told me.
“I helped a woman on the first day. And after that I got a call from my stepfather saying someone had brought her some food.
“I realized that if I helped people here, others would help my family elsewhere,” she said.
The group began by pooling its own resources. But she is now receiving donations from friends and family of those in need to help pay the inflated prices in the local market and online.
“We are trying to buy whatever is left in Ukraine. But, unfortunately, we already have to order products from Russia,” she says.
” What can we do ? People are hungry.
She estimates that about 25-30% of the people in her town are sympathetic to Russia. But the others face a difficult path of having to survive under an occupation they don’t agree with.
“Many of my friends have been detained and tortured. They want us all to walk with them. They want us to collaborate with the orcs, with the Russians,” she said.
Olga says volunteers in her town were targeted by Russian troops.
“My job is very dangerous,” she says. “We are all wondering: why would they target volunteers? Nobody knows the answer.
Olga says that although there are attempts to get humanitarian aid into the city, it often does not reach those in need.
“Sometimes a truck with help would stop in a crowded place and they would throw things at people like dogs. People start fighting each other, pensioners, all kinds.
“Russian soldiers are there laughing, taking pictures, smiling. They think it’s funny. I’ve personally seen scenes like this,” she says.
“I am not afraid for myself but for my family and for people in general. We are nothing for the Russians.
“There are constantly people with assault rifles next to you and you don’t know what they can do next,” she said.
“We are like zombies. You walk around and you are afraid of making the wrong choice.”
Sky News has not been able to independently verify these claims. We have requested comments from the Russian Ministry of Defense, but have not yet received a response.
Human rights experts say the targeting of civilian volunteers, as well as journalists and activists, is widespread in occupied Ukraine.
“One of the main Russian strategies is to starve people into obedience, to break them physically,” Nadia Dobianska, a researcher at Ukrainian human rights organization ZMINA, told Sky News.
“They are destroying any independent access to food, water so that people become dependent on the Russians. So anyone trying to help civilians escape suffering is seen by the Russians as dangerous,” he said. she declared.
The story of Irina from the city of Kherson
Irina lives in Kherson, which is located on the Dnipro River.
As Olga’s hometown, Kherson was quickly captured and a new local government was installed at the start of the war.
She works full time in the health field, but helps the few volunteers still present in the city when she can.
“The moral pressure on civilians is enormous,” she told me.
“When you go out somewhere you have to be very careful with your phone. Photos, chats… you have to delete Telegram, Signal and Instagram because if you get stopped by an occupier they can look through your phone.”
Irina mentioned an incident where a Russian soldier spotted her sunflower tattoo and said she had a “Nazi symbol” on her body.
But unlike Olga, Irina is not afraid of the occupiers.
“Those who are still there and do not want to leave are only waiting for the return of the Ukrainian forces. Some of us are afraid, but others, like me, have a fighting spirit. It is an individual matter. , but the general mood is tense,” she said.
Irina says volunteers in Kherson were also directly targeted by Russian troops.
“They are looking for them: kidnapping them, terrorizing them.”
“Volunteers have to operate in secret. And if you’re too active, they’ll come looking for you,” she added.
However, it is not the same for everyone who volunteers in busy cities.
The story of Andriy from Melitopol
About 290 km away In Melitopol, Andriy leads a volunteer organization that has been active since the beginning of the war.
The group started by delivering aid to hospitals and recently opened a headquarters in a former media center from which they were able to distribute hundreds of aid packages.
“No obvious and overt action has yet been taken against the volunteers, but I have concerns,” he told me.
“Our foundation…we are Ukraine. I display the Ukrainian flag on my website. We advertise the fact that we are Ukraine.”
As in the city of Olga and Kherson, the price of food has skyrocketed in Melitopol, which means that many people cannot afford to eat.
“When the war broke out, people lost their jobs, they lost work. The first two months were still OK because people still had reserves: food reserves and financial reserves.
“But now people just don’t have any money to support themselves. There is no work. A lot of people don’t have any money at all, not a penny,” said- he declared.
Andriy says supermarkets are closed and ATMs are not working in the city.
“Life is horrible here, we live like in the Stone Age.”
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