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Avdiivka (Ukraine) (AFP) – Only a fraction of the apartments in Anna Velichko’s shell-scarred tower are habitable after years of a war in Ukraine that could become even more brutal if Russia invades.

The 39-year-old lives in one of them on the ninth floor.

From his rickety perch overlooking the front line of the escalating conflict in Eastern Europe, Velichko has a clear view of Donetsk and the Russian-backed rebels who regularly fire on residents of his town of Avdiivka.

“Right now they are shooting as hard as they did in 2015,” Velichko says, referring to the second year of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, when dozens of people were dying every day.

The official toll, though disputed, is still low, with one civilian and two Ukrainian soldiers confirmed to have been killed by Kiev last week.

But Velichko’s fury with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Western-backed Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky is enormous.

“I want to slap Putin and Zelensky,” she says as fears of an all-out war between Russia and Ukraine grow day by day, even hour by hour.

“I want them to finally sit down and agree to end this war,” she says.

Ready to run

Putin told an emergency meeting of his security council that he would decide later on Monday to recognize the independence of the two breakaway Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

The government-held frontline town of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine has seen a wave of attacks, making streets unsafe Aris MessinisAFP

There is no doubt that he will. What remains unclear is what this recognition will entail.

The big fear in government-held territory along the Ukrainian front is that it will lead to the arrival of Russian troops, who would be officially invited to protect pro-Moscow leaders and their territory.

The key unanswered question is whether Putin is prepared to recognize only rebel-held areas as independent, or the broader pre-war administrative regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which include land held by Kiev.

The separatists only control the eastern parts of Donetsk and Lugansk.

A Kremlin reconnaissance of the entire region could pave the way for a direct clash between Russian and Ukrainian troops along the current frontline, which includes towns like Avdiivka.

Residents are preparing for the worst.

Emergency bags

Retired Tetyana Polishchuk kept her apartment through some of the fiercest months of the war. But now she packs her emergency bug out bag, ready to run.

“They started shooting a lot more,” the 67-year-old said. “Because of the possible Russian invasion, I even packed my bags. I put them near the door, to be ready.”

But Yevgeniy Tsyganok says he has nowhere to go after relocating his family to Avdiivka in the weeks after his hometown of Donetsk was captured by rebels in 2014.

“Sometimes a really big shell or something goes through and you feel it with your whole body,” the 27-year-old explains.

Some Avdiivka residents who remained during the worst months of Ukraine's eastern separatist war are now preparing to evacuate
Some Avdiivka residents who remained during the worst months of Ukraine’s eastern separatist war are now preparing to evacuate Aris MessinisAFP

“But we can’t run away from here because my parents are over there, in Donetsk,” he said. “They can’t go anywhere, and I feel like I can’t either. This is our land.”