HUFFINGTON POST
11/23/2016 11:55 am ET

Elderly Ukrainians Are Living In Soviet-Era Bunkers After Shelling Left Them Homeless

Life in the East.
Diego Cupolo
Life in the East.

DONETSK, UKRAINE ― As shelling continues in eastern Ukraine, a few dozen civilians have fashioned homes out of an abandoned bunker near Donetsk.

Their homes destroyed by the conflict and their families unable to care for them, the area’s poorest residents have lived in the Soviet-era shelter for more than two years. “It’s impossible to get comfortable, but it almost feels like home now,” said Valentina Maronova, one of the bunker’s inhabitants. “We help each other like one big family because we’ve been together for so long.”

Just a few miles away on the front lines, Ukrainian forces remain locked in trench warfare with Russian-backed separatists, who established the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in effort to break away from the EU-leaning government in Kiev. Attempted ceasefires have so far failed, and shelling begins every night around sunset.

When fighting began here in 2014, more than 300 people initially crammed into the shelter. Most have since moved on, leaving behind the elderly and a few young people who say they have nowhere else to go. As winter approaches, inhabitants shared sentiments of feeling both stuck and forgotten in a conflict with no foreseeable end.

The entrance of the bunker, built during Soviet times for the local coal mine’s employees to take cover in case of war.
Diego Cupolo
The entrance of the bunker, built during Soviet times for the local coal mine’s employees to take cover in case of war. Valentina Maronova says she has been living in the shelter since her home was destroyed by mortars in 2014.
Mariya Tkachenko, 85, prepares and eats her meal in the bunker’s kitchen area.
Diego Cupolo
Mariya Tkachenko, 85, prepares and eats her meal in the bunker’s kitchen area.
Andrei Dashkosky, 28, is one of the few younger inhabitants of the bunker. His real house is in an area deemed off-limits to
Diego Cupolo
Andrei Dashkosky, 28, is one of the few younger inhabitants of the bunker. His real house is in an area deemed off-limits to civilians. He takes odd jobs landscaping when he can.
Valentina Maronova, center, stands in the main common area inside the bunker. She is concerned about the looming winter seaso
Diego Cupolo
Valentina Maronova, center, stands in the main common area inside the bunker. She is concerned about the looming winter season and lack of heaters in the underground space.
Nadia Zelenova, 37, plays with a kitten in the room she shares with Andrei Dashkosky. The two met in the bunker back in 2014
Diego Cupolo
Nadia Zelenova, 37, plays with a kitten in the room she shares with Andrei Dashkosky. The two met in the bunker back in 2014 and got married, but have been unable to gather enough money to leave. Zelenova works at a nearby restaurant, but said she hasn’t been paid in months.
Soviet-era paintings and slogans adorn the walls above makeshift beds and shelves that people have set up over the last two y
Diego Cupolo
Soviet-era paintings and slogans adorn the walls above makeshift beds and shelves that people have set up over the last two years.
The shelf where Andrei Dashkosky and Nadia Zelenova keep their food items.
Diego Cupolo
The shelf where Andrei Dashkosky and Nadia Zelenova keep their food items.
A miniature model of the coal mine sits in one of the bunker’s rooms. Due to its vicinity to the front lines, the coal
Diego Cupolo
A miniature model of the coal mine sits in one of the bunker’s rooms. Due to its vicinity to the front lines, the coal mine has long ceased production.

This article originally appeared on Quartz.

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