Kharkiv (Ukraine) (AFP) – With their red Opel Astra blaring techno music and the boot full to the brim with supplies, three Ukrainian volunteers deliver aid to Kharkiv neighborhoods targeted by Russian rockets.
While the previous two days had been fairly quiet in Ukraine’s second city, on Tuesday, the roar of Ukrainian cannon and Russian artillery rang out again.
The frontline is less than five kilometers (three miles) from Kharkiv’s northern and eastern districts. The Russian border itself is only a few dozen kilometers away.
None of that discourages the volunteers Nazar, Alexei and Oleg.
Outside a kindergarten now serving as a food storage centre, they load their car boot with plastic bags containing bread and canned food.
“Our main goal is to feed children and the elderly, they need it most,” said Nazar Tishchenko, 34.
“Unfortunately, at the moment, people have no money or work. Many of them can’t even get to a supermarket,” he added.
Wearing his cap the wrong way round, a T-shirt, black shorts and bright red trainers, Nazar resembles French football star Karim Benzema with his goatee, shaved skull and imposing frame.
A football fan, he likes a fight, but he is no fan of the police. He has the numbers 13 and 12 tattooed on his shins, numbers representing the letters forming the acronym ACAB: “All cops are bastards”.
Born in Tyrnyauz, Russia, he has lived his “whole life in the football fan movement, with nationalist guys who are imbued with love for our country”, Ukraine.
Music against bombs
With the car filled up, it heads off to a former post office now serving as an aid center distributing meat. There, they exchange bread for chicken legs.
At the wheel is Alexei, 23, a wiry youngster with blue eyes and a single lock of hair on his shaved skull. Starting the delivery operation was his idea.
For two years, he delivered bread to Kharkiv in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine before getting work as a mechanic.
When the war broke out, he went back to delivering bread, then when his company shut down he started doing deliveries himself.
“But I couldn’t do it alone, so I asked Nazar to help me,” Alexei said.
Outside the former post office, more than 100 people wait in a queue.
With the chicken on board, they set off to do their first delivery, the red Opel driving through the streets with techno playing at full blast.
“We cannot drive without music. If there is shelling, we simply put up the volume. We are tired of the bombing. (The music) helps us relax, we’re not afraid,” Nazar said.
Russian rockets pound Kharkiv — home to nearly 1.5 million people before the war — almost every day, its northern districts particularly affected.
The strikes, which come at random times at any hour of the day or night, can sometimes prove deadly.
One day during a bombing, all the shelters were closed, said Nazar.
“We couldn’t hide so we lay on the ground and protected civilians to save them.”
‘Doing the right thing’
The trio arrives outside a decrepit house where 15 people are living in various appartments, among them young children.
They deliver the bags, chat and play with the kids. Their visit is also a source of comfort, a social bond.
“While I’m doing this, I feel like I’m doing the right thing, I’m not just useless, I know I can help people. I don’t feel joy, I just do it and I know it’s right, Alexei said.
A deafening explosion sounds nearby making local resident Oksana Taranushkav jump.
Nazar reassures her, explaining that there was no danger: you can tell from the sound the difference between a Russian strike and a Ukrainian air-defence missile, which this one was.
The 49-year-old woman welcomed the help from the volunteers.
“We don’t get any support, the shops are destroyed, we can’t buy anything, we are just surviving,” she said. “In tears now, she added: “Please Mr Putin, stop, please!”
With the delivery completed, kisses are exchanged and the red Opel makes its way to the next address.
Later in the day, a Russian rocket hit a building in the neighborhood, killing three people.
© 2022 AFP