Dozens of mostly elderly residents of Sloviansk stand silently in line with empty bottles, waiting for a chance to fill them with milk from a truck sent by the government to this war-torn city. They look tired and nervous, and they shout down a photographer when she snaps a photograph of the scene. "Don't shoot this human misery,” one says.
“Please try to understand them, they suffered so much here,” says 22-year-old Igor Pivtsoykin, a volunteer who transported the milk from Kharkiv Oblast.
When a dozen of armored vehicles drive along the road the crowd silences and scowls at them.
Residents of this eastern Ukrainian city that for almost three months was under control of pro-Russian insurgents are still in deep shock after indiscriminate shelling by both sides destroyed much of the city’s infrastructure. The insurgents abandoned their posts in the city on July 5 and have regrouped in the regional capital of Donetsk.
In Sloviansk, there is still no running water and the electricity has been restored only in some districts. Many of the city dwellers charge their cell phones at a charging station in central Lenin Square, where they gab about the latest news or pick up humanitarian aid.
“The 5th of July, when our army came into the city, it’s like our Victory Day,” said Karolina Akimova, 18. The girl remembers how she came with her mother to hail the Ukrainian army when it arrived in Sloviansk on July 5.
After the months of hiding for fear of reprisals from the insurgents, pro-Ukrainian activists have emerged from their homes and are openly expressing their views once again. They are pleased to be free, so to speak, but there is still a pervading fear that the city might fall back under insurgent control.
“They (the Ukrainian authorities) will not give us back to the DNR (self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic)?” asked Karolina’s mother Natalia Akimova, 50.
But not all here share these views.
Viktor, 64, a pensioner who refused to give his last name fearing retribution from the new authorities, said support for Ukrainian forces versus support for insurgents here is "about 50-50 (percent)."
Many people in Sloviansk are now afraid of being arrested for having supported the separatists over the past months, even if their support amounted to no more than a pack of cigarettes shared with them at checkpoints. “I think it’s vicious to report your fellow neighbors,” he added.
But the majority of residents are now more preoccupied with restoring their dwellings and getting back the personal possessions seized from them by the insurgents.
A group of middle-aged women milling around the police station, which previously was used as a separatist headquarters, said on July 11 that they were hoping to get their carpets back from there.
A special headquarters for restoration has been opened at city hall, where workers accept pleas of all types from residents.
Surrounded by half a dozen armed guards, Sergiy Taruta, governor of Donetsk Oblast, arrived in Sloviansk on July 9 with his deputy Andriy Nikolayenko to ask residents about their needs. Most cite the need for electricity and running water, first and foremost.
“By the end of the week you will have electricity in the entire city and the water will be turned on by the weekend,” Nikolayenko, who is in charge of the city’s reconstruction, told residents during his visit. The crowd of about a dozen residents around him did not seem persuaded.
For his part, Taruta offered up advice about home repairs. “You should change not only the window glass, but the entire window frames to the metal-plastic ones, as they will save heat in your houses and you money,” he told residents.
Residents are also concerned about elderly and people with special needs who cannot leave their homes without help. “When will you start helping the people who are bedridden and can’t get out of their homes for humanitarian aid?” asked Oleg Sharuyev, 38, a businessman.
“Bring me a list of the names and we will try to do something,” Nikolayenko answered.
While skeptical of the government’s assistance, people have begun getting back to normal life on their own. The first supermarkets and cafes reopened on July 11. The city’s bakery resumed its work on the same day.
Several residents the Kyiv Post spoke with on July 10 were unpacking their cars after spending several weeks in neighboring Sviatohirsk. "We're happy to be back, of course, but we have a lot of renovating to do," one man said.
Many people here also have become disenchanted with their former politicians and do not trust the new ones. Nelia Shtepa, the city’s former mayor who first supported the separatist movement before turning against it and being held hostage by insurgents, was arrested by Ukrainian law enforcement on July 11 for supporting separatism.
“Shtepa betrayed our city,” Natalia Akimova said.
Editor’s Note: This article has been produced for Kyivpost with support from the project www.mymedia.org.ua, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action.The content in this article may not necessarily reflect the views of the Danish government, NIRAS and BBC Action Media.