War breeds euphemism and metaphor. In the battle for the Donbas city of Bakhmut, threatened with a closing encirclement by Russian forces after seven months of bitter fighting, there are “White Angels” and “Dark Angels”, the “road of life” (the Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway, which is anything but) and the “Invincibility Centre”.
The White Angels, a police evacuation group, scour the lethal districts of the shell-ruined city to evacuate children and the elderly.
Their counterparts, the Dark Angels, take out the dead. The Invincibility Centre is where the few thousands of civilians who remain can find water and hot food cooked by the volunteers who have stayed in the city, even as in the past fortnight it has faced an increasing threat of finally being overrun.
In a town to the west of the city, the Observer meets Oleksandra Havrylko, a 30-year-old police major who has recently spent time in Bakhmut and the surrounding villages with the White Angels, trying to persuade those caring for the last few dozen children to let them be evacuated.
It is a search that has led to rumours that police are taking children from parents who refuse to leave, which has prompted some families to hide their sons and daughters, inexplicable as that might seem.
“Unfortunately, it’s true,” she says sadly. “There have been cases of people hiding children because they’ve heard rumours that the police will take their children by force. [Continue reading…]