Whilethe warnings continue about a possible Russian incursion into Ukraine, Slovyansk is still counting the costs of eight years of conflict.
The city is situated in eastern Ukraine, where a war broke out in 2014 between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces.
Slovyansk was the first city to fall to separatists. Vlada Lysenko was 15 at the time and remembers a city under siege.
“My mother called and said ‘you’re not going anywhere, Slovyansk has been taken’,” said Vlada.
“People were inside the police station with automatic guns and uniforms. We couldn’t understand what was happening and it was crowded. There were tyres and barricades. We avoided all multi-story buildings because there were snipers up there. We tried not to be in an open space because we didn’t know when a bullet would come.”
It took the Ukrainian army nearly three months to recapture Slovyansk and separatists then moved 100 kilometres south, from where they continue to fight today.
Across this region, signs of a war that started eight years ago are still very visible.
Roman was 20 when he was hit by a sniper on the frontline. Five years on, his mother, Olena Napriahlo still struggles with the loss of her son but insists – perhaps as a way to convince herself – that Roman died for a greater good.
“He was a shy and quiet person,” explained Olena. “But he had something inside. A sense of responsibility for others. He was morally ready to protect Ukraine. He said mum, if not me, then who?”
“It’s obvious that the deaths of young people are sad and very painful,” she added. “But the independence of Ukraine is worth it.”
Russia has repeatedly denied US warnings that it is planning to invade Ukraine. It says NATO expansion near its borders poses a national security threat and wants a pledge that Ukraine — formerly part of the Soviet Union — will never join the transatlantic military alliance.