Story #66. Life in a Frontline Village

February 2, 2023
The story of Oleksandr Semeryanov, head of the village of Korobochkyne, Kharkiv Oblast. #UkraineWorldTestimony

The village of Korobochkyne in Kharkiv Oblast managed to escape occupation, but it suffered from Russian artillery shelling for more than six months. By the end of February, the villagers already understood that Russian troops were approaching. On March 6, Russian intelligence officers arrived.

At that moment, the headman of Korobochkyne, Oleksandr Semeryanov, was on the outskirts of the village. People began to call him and tell that Russian soldiers in black uniforms had entered the village. While Oleksandr was thinking about what to do and calling the police, local residents called him again. This time they said that the Russians had gathered 40-50 people in the center of the village and demanded that the head of the village come there urgently. If Oleksandr did not come, they threatened to shoot everyone.

Immediately after the call, Oleksandr went to the village center and saw the Russians with his own eyes. They told him: "Stand here. Now someone who wants to talk to you will come." However, in a few minutes, a car arrived, in which all the Russian soldiers got in and drove away. They promised to come back the next day. They said that they knew where Oleksandr lives, they knew everything about his family, they had all his data, and that they would definitely be back. Fortunately, they never did.

In a few days, the Ukrainian military moved into the village and held positions there from March to September. Oleksandr was very happy that the Ukrainian army had come to the village and helped house and feed the soldiers.

From March to September, for 7 months, Korobochkyne was under constant shelling. During this time, the Russian military made several attempts to enter and occupy, but they never succeeded.

As a result of the massive and constant artillery battles taking place in Korobochkyne, only about 300 of the more than 3,000 residents of Korobochkyne remained. They were mostly elderly people or people with limited mobility. Others left for safer regions of Ukraine or abroad.

Oleksandr drove his minivan to the nearby town of Chuhuiv almost every day to buy bread, food, and medicine for the villagers, as well as some supplies for the soldiers. Oleksandr took great risks making these trips, as the roads were under Russian fire, and his white car could have been targeted by the enemy at any moment.

"The Russians fired at us almost every day. The shelling began around 4 pm and did not stop until night. They fired from Grad MLRS, Uragan MLRS, and just barrel artillery. The Russian positions were located 4 km from Korobochkyne," Oleksandr said.

18 civilians died in the village during the whole period of shelling. Oleksandr mentions a family of 5 people who were having dinner one day when a Russian shell hit their house. All five were killed. In addition, 6-8 Ukrainian soldiers were killed defending the village.

Oleksandr also knows about the fate of neighboring villages, which, unlike Korobochkyne, came under Russian occupation. Most of the heads of those villages refused to cooperate with the enemy. Some village heads who didn't want to cooperate with the occupiers were locked in basements and tortured. One of them spent 2 months underground.

In the first months of the war, the residents of Korobochkyne were left without electricity, water, and gas supplies. All communications were damaged as a result of the shelling. In addition, more than 70% of houses in the village were damaged, with 10% completely destroyed.

After the liberation of Kharkiv Oblast from the Russian invaders, some residents of the village began to return. Oleksandr began working to restore electricity, gas, and other amenities to the village. People started rebuilding their homes where possible.

Since the village also lost internet from the shelling, Oleksandr installed a Starlink terminal in autumn with the help of the  Kharkiv Military Administration. Children who need to study online have returned to Korobochkyne, so this will help them a lot.

Currently, 640 people live in the village, including 50 children. Other residents of the village who left between March and May 2022 have not returned home yet, but many hope to do so when the winter ends and it gets warmer.

After the de-occupation of Kharkiv Oblast, Korobochkyne's pharmacy was rebuilt and opened in the village. Doctors have returned and are working here. The kindergarten and school damaged by shelling are set to be repaired and opened for children in the spring.

Oleksandr feels the support of international organizations, local authorities, and volunteers. When he asks for help, he always gets it. He continues to develop his war-torn village and believes in the best.

This material was prepared with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation.