Within minutes, half a dozen cars park in front of what has become Buhaivka’s reception center. “A chair,” one shouts. “He can’t walk,” another shouts while cries of pain come from inside the car. The volunteers crowd to remove the woman in a red jacket and a light scarf that covers her head. Two of them sit her under a tree, another of them brings her water and talks to her to calm her down. He hugs her while her husband, as old as she, looks at her stunned. Around, everyone runs. There are children, teenagers, but the majority are older, loaded with suitcases, bags… And their animals, some so large that they barely fit in the transport boxes. Every volunteer, every police officer, every doctor tries to help them as they can. Some take their information, others contact them by phone with their families, others give them hot food, organized by the ever-present World Central Kitchen.

“She doesn’t know where her son is,” explains Natalia, another woman, also older, who has gotten out of the same vehicle. They come from Vovchansk, 20 kilometers and only 5 from the Russian border. “I don’t want to be here anymore, it’s over,” says the woman, who says that the attacks have not stopped since last Thursday at 11 p.m.

The first days, Natalia thought that it would be something temporary, that the Russians were only waging one more campaign of attacks, and that is why she refused to listen to the pleas of her children, who from Kharkiv asked her to leave Vovchansk. For many, the situation was not entirely unusual. Since Ukrainian forces regained control of these towns in September 2022, after seven months of invasion, life has never been the same. The explosions broke her tranquility from time to time. But they learned to live with it. At least this explains Natalia, that she only made the decision to leave her house early Monday morning. The bombs were even more frequent and a nearby home was destroyed. “I’m going to my sister’s, if my children want to go with me, let them come. Kharkiv is also always attacked,” said Natalia, who was carrying her cat in a small box.

At his side, Valentina, who arrived in another vehicle, said that her apartment had been hit two days ago, she moved to her son’s house, which was attacked this morning, leaving her daughter-in-law injured. Only two months ago she had buried her son, a soldier, who died of cancer that arose when she was at the front.

“On this last trip I had to drop to the ground because a drone flew over us. The situation changes every minute,” explained Vlad, a volunteer who has entered Vovchansk and surrounding areas 25 times since Saturday. The Russians seem to have reached the other side of the river and fighting is already taking place inside the city. On Sunday, he says, he evacuated a man who claimed the Russians entered his house and shot him in the hands. “It was lucky they left him alive.” The local police chief’s truck was hit in the window at noon on Monday.

Organizations that monitor the war assure that the Russian presence in this sector of the border has been expanding, not so much in depth but in width. The North American Institute for the Study of War assures in its report of May 14 that Russian forces have made tactical advances and “appear to be prioritizing the rapid establishment of a buffer zone along the border instead of establishing conditions for deeper penetrations.”

Many fear that the Russians will get close enough to the city of Kharkiv, which would allow them to attack it with artillery constantly, as happened during the first months. Yesterday there were 15 people injured in the city in an airstrike with guided bombs that hit a tall building. Regarding the defense of Kharkiv and its region, Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday asked the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, for two Patriot missile anti-aircraft batteries. Blinken, in a surprise visit to Kyiv, told the Ukrainian president that US military aid “is on the way.” “A portion of the newly unlocked $61 billion package has already arrived,” he noted, “more will come and make a real difference on the battlefield.”

Volunteers say they are evacuating more and more people from areas near the Russian border, including Buhaivka, where many civilians have decided to leave even though the Russians are not nearby. But you can hear the explosions in the distance and sometimes the rumble of planes. The governor of the province, who visited Buhaivka on Monday, assured that the priority was Vovchanskoye and the adjacent settlements, where the work to evacuate is against time. “In the Lipetsk direction, in the Tserkunivsky direction, it’s the same. There are thousands of people there who have to be evacuated,” said Oleg Syniehubov, who confirmed that as of Monday they had evacuated 6,000 people, 1,500 on Monday. “The first step is to stabilize the front line to carry out a successful defense. Afterwards, our forces will do everything possible to completely expel the occupier,” he assured. In recent hours, criticism of the authorities has increased due to the lack of protection in the border areas, which Russian troops would have crossed without obstacles. Many wonder why they were not mined. And many also wonder why there were not greater lines of defense if the possibility of an incursion into that area was not ruled out. Russia had amassed at least 30,000 men.

On the road to Buhaivka, among pine forests, teams can be seen digging trench systems, made with cement and logs whose construction, it is clear, did not begin after last Friday’s attack. But not only are they far from the border, but they have a long way to go to be finished.

After a long journey, Natalia and her cat have arrived in Kharkiv as evening falls. The organizations coordinating the evacuation transport evacuees to the city in their vans or buses. “I feel better. She had not slept for many days,” says the woman, who is accompanied all the time by a volunteer who takes care of her.