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How does the frontline city of Kupiansk live

Kupiansk is an industrial city and a transport hub of the Kharkiv region. Located just 50 kilometers from the border with Russia, it had been under temporary occupation since the third day of the full-scale invasion. On September 10, 2022, Ukrainian defenders liberated the town. 

Here is how the locals deal with the harsh consequences of Russia’s short but extremely destructive presence in the area.

Most houses have boards instead of windows to somewhat protect them from humidity.
Photo: Denys Glushko, Gwara Media

Before Russia’s large-scale invasion, Kupiansk was home to nearly 30,000 people. It was a city of developing enterprises and a wide net of roads, which benefited the trade in the region. Russia’s invasion put the progress of the city on hold. Kupiansk has been heavily damaged by constant Russian attacks since February 2022. 

In the early days of the occupation, citizens protested against the aggressor’s troops and organized self-defense groups that patrolled the streets. Military equipment was driven through the city to the front line. Passports of Russian citizens were forcibly issued here, and Russian textbooks for Ukrainian schoolchildren were introduced. 

Due to the lack of food and medicine, people in Kupiansk collected the necessary supplies on their own and shared them with their neighbors. In March, the newborns were lacking the essentials – and residents of Kupyansk brought clothes, diapers, hygiene products, and formula to the local maternity hospital.

During the Russian occupation, Ukrainian state symbols were destroyed. Residents were forced to paint bridges in the Russian flag’s red, white, and blue colors.

Now, Ukrainian flags are flying on the streets of Kupiansk. More than a year after the liberation, Kupyansk has managed to restore communication, electricity, gas, and water supply and de-mined the streets.

Now blue and yellow Ukrainian flags are flying on the streets of Kupyansk.
Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba

But people in the liberated city, still cannot feel safe. After fleeing, the Russians switched to terror tactics. The missiles hit different parts of the town. Many facilities in Kupiansk are smashed to pieces. Many businesses are being damaged, and people have been leaving, which led to a new issue – unemployment. The local authorities are organizing humanitarian aid for the residents who remained in the city, as almost all large businesses have been either destroyed or ceased to function. 

The Ukrainian government regularly organizes evacuations of residents to safer regions of Ukraine. Many of the city’s remaining residents are mostly older people or those taking care of sick relatives. Out of almost 30,000 local residents, only about 5,000 remained in Kupyansk by September 2023. Three schools in the Kupyansk community have resumed distance learning, and 1247 children have been studying online.

A mural dedicated to the liberation in the center of Kupiansk, September 23, 2023.
Photo: Oleksandr Stavytskyi

Currently, 60% of the buildings in the town have been destroyed as a result of shelling by the Russian Armed Forces, as Kupyansk is located 10 kilometers from the front line.

The thought of re-occupation sounds like a nightmare for residents — 6 months under Russian control were marked by terror, abductions, and torture of civilians, deportations, and a dire humanitarian situation. Residents believe in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and hope that the Russians will never return to their land.