Relative calm in a state of war prevails in places no longer under attack in Ukraine, where firefighters dig through apartment buildings leveled by Russian missiles. Here, at least, help has arrived, with volunteers ladling steaming spoonfuls of rice, lamb and carrots into bowls for residents who endured near-starvation for weeks before a hasty Russian retreat.

A boy searches for his cat. Another plays cards. One man warms himself by a fire as another walks with his bicycle. An elderly lady waves from a van, as if she’s going on a church trip.

But everywhere around them are signs of trauma. A woman sobs as her relative’s body is loaded into a van. A firefighter explains that they follow the smell to find bodies in the rubble. That elderly lady? She’s escaping Kramatorsk, where a missile hit a train station crowded with evacuees.

And that boy playing cards? He’s Vlad, 6, who watched his mother die as they hid in a basement from Russian soldiers.

Another Vlad — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — speaks of their pain during an interview between sandbags and armed guards outside his office in the capital. He tells The Associated Press he’s willing to negotiate, though Russia has “tortured” his country, but that for now, his people need more weapons. They have to fight for life, he says, not “for dust when there is nothing and no people. That’s why it is important to stop this war.”


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