'So be it': Ukrainians despair as Russians hammer Chasiv Yar

In the embattled eastern town of Chasiv Yar, Valentyna is so exhausted by constant shelling she does not care if she dies.

On Friday night the 82-year-old was trapped in her house when the Russians began pounding the small town a short drive from the frontline hotspot of Bakhmut.

"I was here at home, lying on my sofa about to go to sleep. All of a sudden, the shelling started," Valentyna told AFP in the backyard of her small house as she collected firewood.

"I couldn't get out. So I lay there thinking: 'If they kill me here, so be it'".

She described how the bombardment lasted more than three hours.

"Dear god, I cannot take this anymore," she said in a tired voice.

The strikes hit her neighbourhood on Friday. Shells fell in Valentyna's street and damaged a nearby house, but her home was spared.

A shell landed at the foot of an armoured personnel carrier parked on a dirt road next to her house, damaging a track wheel.

A 4x4 military vehicle ended up on the verge, and several soldiers were wounded.

- Dire conditions -

Part of Valentyna's house previously took a direct hit, and the elderly woman endures dire living conditions.

"It's cold inside," she said. "There is no gas, no electricity, no water."

But Valentyna, a widow for the past 20 years, stays put, saying she has nowhere to go. Her only daughter lives in eastern Russia.

"The last time I visited my daughter, it took me four days to travel," she said.

Russian troops are surrounding Bakhmut to the north, east and south.

Chasiv Yar was a town of about 13,000 people before Russia's invasion.

As in many places being shelled near the front line, almost all the inhabitants have left.

On Saturday, a girl and her mother were evacuated in a minibus.

- Artillery fire -

The man who took them to be picked up saw the roof of a neighbour's house destroyed by a strike on Friday evening.

He moved to Chasiv Yar six months ago and used to run a cafe in Bakhmut.

Following Russia's invasion, he has returned to the city twice a week to feed stray dogs.

He has not visited since the end of last month, when Ukrainian forces destroyed a bridge on the way to Bakhmut.

"I promised my wife I wouldn't go back," he said. He plans to leave Chasiv Yar soon.

Ukrainian artillery echoes endlessly through the town, alongside the powerful fire of an American M777 howitzer near the centre.

Trenches have been dug near the town over the past few days.

"We have a lot of work to do, no breaks, any time of the day. We work at night if they call us," said brigade commander Siry, "Grey" in English.

"Today we are mainly covering the area around Bakhmut," he said, adding that the target is "usually Russian infantry or armour".

"We are fighting until victory. We need the victory, not only peace.

"You will ask why. Because I always say that Russians are crazy animals."

"We have to stop them," he said.