Fear and Mayhem as Russia’s War Comes Home

At a big volleyball arena in Belgorod, where some of the tens of thousands who have fled Shebekino and surrounding villages come to be registered, Lidiya Rogatiya, 65, was inconsolable. She kept wailing about her abandoned chickens in the Russian village of Novaya Tolovoshanka, near Shebekino, prompting another woman to shout: “Will you keep quiet about your stupid chickens? All you talk about is feeding your chickens!”

But to Ms. Rogatiya, whose pension is just $110 a month, they symbolize the home she has lost, leaving her, she said, with nothing to live for.

Many of the people are poor pensioners, like Ms. Rogatiya, who live in a hardscrabble Russian world that lies at an infinite remove from the glitz of central Moscow.

The volleyball arena, converted into a registration center, was redolent of dust and sweat and grit. Many people had fled with a few possessions hastily stuffed into a couple of garbage bags, at most. Maksim Bely, a volunteer, said people were being given the choice of three destinations: Tambov, 310 miles away; Tula 250 miles away; and Tomsk, 2,420 miles away, in Siberia.

“Most choose Tula,” he said. I asked when these people would go home. “They will go home when the war is over,” he said. When would that be? He offered a wan smile.

At the vast dormitory at the indoor cycle track, Aleksandr Petrianko, 62, paralyzed by a stroke, lay with his head half-hidden by a blanket. His voice trembled. Fear inhabited his eyes.

Will you go home?

He shook his head. “Whatever God gives to us,” he said.

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