Ukraine is advancing, but people in front-line villages are still just hoping to survive Russia’s war

Vremivka, Ukraine – Russia’s latest overnight airstrikes on Ukraine included a punishing second night of attacks on the key port city of Odesa. Ukrainian officials accused Russia of attacking grain terminals and port infrastructure in the city “to destroy the possibility of shipping Ukrainian grain.”

The strikes came just days after Moscow pulled out of an agreement that had enabled grain shipments from both Ukraine and Russia to resume, easing global food prices that had soared due in large part to the war. Ukraine accused Moscow of weaponizing food supplies, playing “hunger games” with the world.

On the front lines of the war, Ukrainian forces continue to slowly claw back Russian-occupied territory, village by village. But the gains are coming at a huge cost in lives and infrastructure.

Widespread landmines slow Ukrainian counteroffensive


Driving into the village of Vremivka, in southeast Ukraine’s Donetsk region, the destruction lining the road made it hard to imagine anyone surviving the savage violence of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Once home to around 1,300 people, there are now only 15 residents eking out survival in the ruins of Vremivka.

When we showed up and met Victor and Lubya, our team was in full body armor for good reason: Vremivka sits right on one of the most active fault lines in the war — what Ukrainian troops call “the zero line.” 

The shelling from both sides is relentless, but when we asked Lubya if it bothered her, she said: “No, that’s far away. We call this silence.”

The couple have lived their whole lives in the village. Lubya, six years younger than her husband at 65, playfully calls Victor “grandpa.”

Victor and Lubya speak with CBS News at their home in the village of Vremivka, in Donetsk, southeast Ukraine, July 18, 2023. The village was retaken from occupying Russian forces, but it is still regularly shelled given its position very near the front line.

CBS News/Agnes Reau

They rode out the worst of the nearly 17-month-long war in a cellar at their property, refusing to leave as they had to look after Lubya’s 92-year-old mother and their five dogs.

“We’ve lived together for 47 years now,” Victor told us. “We were born here, we got married here, we had children here.”

He said their children, now grown, have offered repeatedly to come and take them away, to somewhere further from the front line, but “there’s also shooting going on there,” Victor said, “so what’s the point of changing one for another?”

Victor and Lubya speak with CBS News’ Charlie D’Agata at their home in the village of Vremivka, in Donetsk, southeast Ukraine, July 18, 2023.

CBS News/Agnes Reau

Lubya gleefully showed us one of her sunhats, now adorned with scorch marks from shrapnel. She was riding her bike when an incoming mortar sprayed hot fragments of metal into her hat.

Ukrainian forces have and continue to retake territory in this region, but the advance is being measured in feet and yards, not square miles, and even in recaptured neighborhoods, Russian artillery still rains down.

Right on the edge of newly liberated territory, not a building stands untouched. The Ukrainians have managed to force back the Russians’ defensive line in Donetsk, but Vladimir Putin’s forces keep attacking what’s left of Vremivka and other villages like it.

In the next village over, Storozheve, a trail of shot-up, obliterated homes and the bodies of Russian soldiers are testimony to the vicious fight that ended with Ukraine wrestling the enclave back from the occupiers. 

Back at Lubya’s home, with the windows all shattered, she cut some fresh flowers to place on her mom’s grave. She died naturally, Lubya said, but soldiers told them the graveyard was too dangerous for a burial, littered with landmines and under constant attack.

The troops helped the couple dig a grave outside their house instead, and they promised to come back and help move Lubya’s mother to the cemetery when the war is over.

But Lubya and Victor know that day isn’t coming any time soon, and they have more pressing hopes for the time being.

“I am hoping we will survive,” Victor told us. “We are asking God to continue our lives.”


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