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In Ukraine’s Kharkiv, a city — and a people — with the strength of concrete

Click to play video: 'Ukraine soldier shares experience as prisoner of war in Russia'
Ukraine soldier shares experience as prisoner of war in Russia
WATCH: As Russia continues its war against Ukraine for a third year, those not killed are at risk of being captured. And rarely do we hear from those who have lived through such torment. In this exclusive, Crystal Goomansingh spoke with a Ukrainian soldier who endured more than 10 months inside a Russian camp – Feb 23, 2024

In the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, people say, “Kharkiv misto zaelzobeton.”

The phrase translates to English as, “Kharkiv is reinforced concrete” — a testament to a city that’s been broken, but not destroyed, two years after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

“It is a city of unbreakable and invincible people,” one woman on the street told the Global News crew there to mark the second anniversary of the invasion.

And the slogan has become a lifeline.

“Since Feb. 24, I have seen a lot of grief and tragedies,” says Volodymyr Tymoshko, the city’s police chief.

He says part of his job since the invasion has been to document the deaths of the 3,000 civilians in Kharkiv killed in the Russian attacks — and 89 of those are children.

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Tymoshko grew up in Kharkiv, and knew he would protect it no matter what.

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been scared. He says only an idiot would not be afraid of what Russia has thrown at the city and the country over the past two years, with no sign of stopping.

“Every person makes his choice between fear and duty,” he told Global News.

As he showed Global News around what’s left of the Kharkiv police headquarters, Tymoshko explained that his first day in the role was the day the invasion began. And not long after, as he was sitting in his office on March 2, 2022, he says two Iscander missiles fired by Russia hit the building.

The fact the he survived is remarkable. He ran outside, where a staircase had collapsed and he says people were trapped under the rubble. Luckily, they were rescued.

Two years later, Tymoshko will call March 2, 2024, his second birthday — and says he assumed he lived because he still has more to do.

Click to play video: 'Ukraine war intensifies as Russia launches retaliatory strikes'
Ukraine war intensifies as Russia launches retaliatory strikes

Whether young or old, residents in Kharkiv have spent the past 24 months among airstrikes and chaos, seeing the injured and knowing not everyone would survive as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues what he has called a “special military operation” to “de-Nazify” and “liberate” Russian-speaking communities in southeastern Ukraine.

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Kharkiv is located beside two other regions, Luhansk and Donetsk, which were partially taken over by pro-Russian separatists following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.

And while so much has been lost in Kharkiv, there’s also a newfound sense of strength.

Click to play video: 'Children in Kharkiv, Ukraine going to school in underground classrooms'
Children in Kharkiv, Ukraine going to school in underground classrooms

Hamlet Zinkivsky is an acclaimed street artist and the Yermilov Centre is currently filled with his work: one sketch for each day, as part of an ongoing multi-year project.

His work in 2023 is personal, poetic and mostly about the war.

“I think it is about the whole city,” he says, showing his work.

For Natalii Ivanova, curator of the gallery, she says art is the same as life in the city.

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“It is divided into before and after,” Ivanova says.

Before Feb. 24, 2022, the space was all about art. After, the underground space with the giant pillars of concrete has served as a shelter for artists in what one person at the gallery described as a time that was “scary and strange, but also fantastic.”

Fantastic, because of the strength of a united community, and because of a bond between people that’s as strong as reinforced concrete.

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