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Russian attack forces frustrated, hungry residents from Ukraine border town

By Vitalii Hnidyi

NEAR VOVCHANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) – Residents of a Ukrainian border town, frustrated and angry at an armoured ground attack by Russian troops trying to secure a new foothold, were evacuated from their homes on Friday with an uncertain future ahead.

Officials brought together dozens of inhabitants of Vovchansk and surrounding villages during breaks in the fighting and took them to an undisclosed location where they awaited buses to take them to safe locations.

“We are leaving because we are dying from the ‘Russian world,'” said Valerii Dubskyi, 60, referring to a Russian concept of extending Moscow’s influence beyond its borders.

“It can go to hell, together with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and their authorities. They are our enemies. They tested all types of weapons on us, except for the nuclear bomb.”

Dubskyi said he had not eaten for 24 hours. Even fetching well water was impossible under an unending torrent of shelling.

“During the bombardments, you either rush to the basement or out of the basement,” he said. “There and back.”

Groups of evacuees sat on benches clutching handfuls of possessions, tightly packed bags alongside them on the ground.

Volunteers compiled lists of evacuees. Meals in plastic cartons were handed out.

Halyna Ukrainyk, clutching a cat while waiting for her bus, said the shelling started the previous day at about 3 a.m. She and others were confined to a cellar.

“A street is totally destroyed. Shelling,” she said. “It’s horrible what is going on there. It’s impossible to stay there.”

Antonina Kornuta, from the nearby village of Buhaivka, said most peoples’ thoughts were with the younger evacuees.

“It is very scary,” she said. “I have grandchildren, children. It’s about their lives. I don’t want to leave.”

Evacuees, accompanied by at least one dog, filed quietly into the waiting vehicles.

Oleksii Kharkivsky, Vovchansk’s chief patrol police officer, said Russian forces appeared intent on destroying the town.

“Within 24 hours, there were probably several hundred hits by artillery, mines and dozens of cluster bombs,” he said.

“They are destroying the town, they are trying to get inside the area. But there are no enemy troops in the town.”

For Dubskyi, however orderly the departure was, there was still something unreal about it.

“I want to pinch myself because I think it’s not real, just a nightmare. But it’s real alright,” he said. “I thought old age would be a quiet time. But just look at it. And there are many more millions like me, thanks to Putin.”

(This story has been refiled to fix the byline)

(Writing by Margaryta Chornokondratenko and Ron Popeski; Editing by Leslie Adler)