His most recent assignment turned out to be life-threatening. Yevgen Gamiy was just about to bring water from a spring to the people in the cellars with his tractor when a Grad rocket exploded next to him. “Everything seemed calm – and then this,” he says, pointing to a rocket fragment the size of a loaf of bread. “She whistled very briefly and then it tore her apart. And then another,” says the 51-year-old. “It’s getting scary on the tractor.”

Stepnohirsk is located on the east bank of the Dnipro in the Zaporizhia region. Russians still seem safe on this side of the river. The Dnipro acts as a natural shield for the Russian troops, and the advancing Ukrainian army has not yet advanced to this side.

Since the first days of the war, Russian units have held positions in the fields a few kilometers south of the village.

At this point the front is frozen. That’s why the villagers don’t understand why rockets are still flying back and forth here. The Kremlin’s announcement on Wednesday that it would withdraw without a fight from the city of Kherson, 300 kilometers away, also reached Stepnohirsk. “We hear what is happening there,” says engineer Lyudmyla Okopna. “We still believe our people are advancing in our direction as well. But nothing has happened so far,” regrets the 58-year-old. “Nothing is moving on our front.”

The great concern of the people in such remote places is that Ukraine will have to stop its counter-offensive when the first snow falls and the engines no longer start in the coming weeks. No one can predict how the fighting will continue in the spring.

Lyubov Gashula is afraid of winter. “If the war suddenly stops, we will experience what happened in Donetsk over the past eight years,” says the 62-year-old. Since 2014, the Ukrainian army has been fighting pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country, thousands have died without the conflict being resolved.

“There was shooting for eight years and nothing moved. I wouldn’t want that,” says Gaschula. She and her neighbors have organized themselves well in the basement. They are eating apple pie together that they baked in the improvised oven.

One fear is that after the defeat in Kherson, Russian troops could now focus on taking the industrial and agricultural region of Zaporizhia. “The front held out here for so long that we started to think that the Russians would probably never get to us,” says engineer Okopna. Now she’s not so sure, and it scares her. “These Russian ‘liberators’ wipe out everything that gets in their way,” she rants. “You can’t trust them.”