Editor's Note: The Kyiv Independent agreed not to publish the names and/or last names of people who live or visit Avdiivka so as not to endanger them and their immediate family.
The city of Avdiivka, in Donetsk Oblast, has been on the front line of Russia's war against Ukraine for almost 10 years.
Russia's October offensive left the city, once home to 35,000 people, completely destroyed.
Often called "the gateway to Donetsk," the city is located just 5 kilometers northwest of the regional capital occupied since 2014.
Since October, the Russian army has launched a large-scale offensive to the north and south of Avdiivka, trying to surround and occupy the destroyed, yet still vital, city.
Driving up to the city, a column of smoke from the Avdiivka Coke Plant, located on the northwest outskirts, becomes the main reference point.
Inside Avdiivka, almost all houses are destroyed or damaged. About 1,200 civilians remain in the city, living in basements and rarely seeing daylight. Those who were willing to speak believe that Russian troops had already entered the city's suburbs.
The tactics used by the Russians are reminiscent of the Battle of Bakhmut – slow advance from three sides in an attempt to cut supply routes and choke the city's defenses.
Volunteers Oleh and Ihor have made constant trips to Avdiivka using the last crossable route, carrying fresh bread, drinking water and animal feed in an armored minivan.
For Ihor, the dangerous trips are a return home. He was born in Avdiivka and worked at the plant for about 25 years. He constantly gazes at the plant, which constantly appears on the horizon.
The Russian troops have already seized the slagheap behind the plant and are now trying to enter it.
Ihor had two apartments in Avdiivka, one completely destroyed, the other severely damaged.
Almost 4,000 people worked at the plant before the full-scale war, after only 70 people remained to maintain the plant. Since Russia launched the Avdiivka offensive in October, the plant was shut down.
A blue and yellow flag and the flags of the brigades defending the city are flying high near the city's entrance. "Avdiivka is Ukraine," is engraved on the entrance sign.
In the city, one shop remains open. Powered by a loud generator and having constant visitors, the shop is now the city's main attraction.
This shop was opened recently, but not all locals know about its existence yet (a missile hit the previous one). It is located in a half-destroyed building, where the upper two floors collapsed as a result of a Russian strike.
The entrance door to the shop is blocked with slate.
For many locals, this will be their second winter in the basement, so things like rubber boots, socks, or insect repellents are in high demand.
Oleh and Ihor go door to door, basement to basement to provide the remaining locals with basic necessities.
In one of the basements, three women and two men live in one spacious room. Everyone has a separate bed, and along the walls are food supplies. The room is lit by Christmas lights and a dim fire from a small pot, on which one of the women is making soup and buckwheat porridge.
She says that she has not come out of this hiding place for more than a year.
"I'm scared. My neighbor was injured, his arm was torn off," she said.
The women offered tea and cookies but advised not to stay long. Last week, they also had volunteers, and an hour after the volunteer car left, a shell flew into the yard.
Many people in Avdiivka have accepted the new reality, which resembles a horror movie about doomsday.
Attempts to make basements cozy are visible and widespread.
Despite ongoing attempts to persuade people to leave the destroyed city, those who remain do not dare to leave their basements. They give different reasons for staying.
One of the most common explanations is the lack of money, predominant for older people, who are convinced that their pension will not be enough for anything outside the place they own and know well.
Another explanation given is that they are not welcomed elsewhere.
"Anyone from Donbas is called a separatist. No matter how a person thinks about this situation, they believe that we are all bad. We are to blame for everything," a woman said.
Those who remain are indifferent when asked about the city's possible fall to the Russian troops. All said that they wanted the shelling to stop.