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Ukrainian woman, 98, treks miles under shelling to escape Russian forces

WorldUkrainian woman, 98, treks miles under shelling to escape Russian forces

KYIV, Ukraine — With shells raining down and Russian forces advancing, 98-year-old Lidia Stepanivna Lumikovska made the decision to leave her home in the village of Ocheretyne in eastern Ukraine and walk around 6 miles to safety.

Recalling her journey in a video released by Ukraine’s National Police and the country’s interior ministry Monday, the woman said she survived World War II “and I am going through this war.”

She added that “everything is upside-down” in her village and “scary things are happening there.”

It was not clear when exactly Lumikovska started her journey, but Pavlo Dyachenko, a press officer with the Donetsk branch of the National Police, told NBC News it was likely Friday or Saturday.

Dyachenko added that it appeared that she was separated from her son and daughter-in-law as they left the village, so she had to make her own way to safety.

In a separate news release, police and the interior ministry said she propped herself up with a cane and a piece of wood fashioned into a walking stick.

Elderly Ukrainian Woman Treks 6 Miles Under Russian Shelling
Lidia Stepanivna, a 98-year-old Ukrainian woman who walked for 6 miles under Russian shelling near the village of Ocheretyne in the eastern Donetsk Oblast.Ukrainian National Police

Wearing an oversize gray coat, with a scarf covering her hair and blue house slippers on her feet, Lumikovska said in the video that she took breaks to rest and sleep. She added that she fell several times from exhaustion.

Dyachenko said police had tried to calculate her route to safety, but it appeared that she had meandered around from place to place. He said they worked out that she walked about 6 miles total.

Eventually, he said, she was spotted by Ukrainian troops, and a police unit that rescues people from the front lines was dispatched to get her Saturday night.

After she was taken to an evacuation shelter, he said, she was reunited with her granddaughter who had evacuated from Ocheretyne several weeks earlier, amid fierce fighting in the region over recent weeks.

Russia claimed the village of Semenivka, less than 5 miles south of Ocheretyne, on Monday, a day after Ukrainian Commander in Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said his troops had to retreat from three villages in the area.

His rare admission came just over a week after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a nearly $61 billion aid package for Ukraine following months of resistance from hard-line Republicans. However, the political wrangling left Ukraine with severe ammunition shortages, leaving its defensive lines dangerously exposed across the 600-mile front line, and Russia has used the delays to push for new ground in Donetsk.

Moscow-backed separatists have battled Ukrainian forces in Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move widely seen as illegal. Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed the two regions, collectively known as the Donbas, in September 2022, along with the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

While Ukraine encourages everyone in the villages and towns close to the front lines to evacuate, many, especially older adults, have refused to abandon their homes and will not leave until the fighting draws close.

The war, now in its third year, has taken a heavy toll on Ukraine’s civilian population.

While there are no exact figures, the latest verified toll released by the United Nations in February said more than 10,000 civilians had died in the conflict, although the number was likely to be much higher.

The fighting has displaced an estimated 3.7 million people internally, according to the U.N., and about 6.5 million people have left Ukraine as refugees.

As for Lumikovska, the future remains unclear.

“I’m left with nothing,” she said.

Daryna Mayer reported from Kyiv and Yuliya Talmazan from London.

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