With its white sand, changing cabins and crystal clear waters, the beach at Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine is tempting. But explosions of rockets and missiles spoil the mood.
The lakeside recreation area is close to one of the most active fronts of the war against Russia, north of Sloviansk, where the Ukrainian army fires from woods and villages in an attempt to stop the march of Russian forces.
The fighting isn't enough to deter some beachgoers.
“We just came here to walk around and take a few pictures,” says Kostyantyn, 40, in shorts and sunglasses. “We wanted to swim, but it's too cold,” he adds, as the recently sun-drenched region experiences a rare cloudy day.
“A beach is a beach”, he says, photographing his friend Denys who is active on outdoor sports equipment.
The front is only ten kilometers away. The Ukrainian military said on Wednesday that Russian troops were firing indiscriminately to relaunch their offensive on Sloviansk.
The lake was once famous for its salty waters, which were believed to have healing properties. The sanatorium built on site has closed.
“It's nice, people come to swim. We also come to see the swans,” says Daniil, 39, who with a group of friends cycled along the beach to buy food in Sloviansk.
Daniil works as an ironworker in the Sloviansk power plant in the nearby town of Mykolaivka, which ceased operation because of the war.
On a beach hut, orange letters trumpet 'Be happy this summer'. But the lounge chairs remained locked, the ice cream stands and a massage parlor are closed.
“We often came before the war,” recalls Kostyantyn. “It's only the second time this year.”
He says he's helping in his own way, on his own scale, feeding dogs abandoned by their owners who have fled to safer areas of Ukraine.
“I am not afraid because I have already been under a bombardment”, trapped under Russian bombs in an evacuation bus in the Kharkiv region (northeast) end February, he says as powerful explosions are heard in the background.
“With what is happening now, we realize that life is not so dangerous. People's fear is more dangerous, because what they are afraid of comes true.”
Since the beginning of the conflict, those who decided not to evacuate from the area have become “very authoritarian and insensitive” , he complains. “I think it's a form of nervous stress”.
“There are those who are waiting for the Russians to arrive”, intervenes his friend Denys. “They believe it will be better, that they will receive a pension from the Russians.”
In 2014, Sloviansk was taken by pro-Russian separatists. Ukraine only managed to reclaim the city after a long siege.
The once leafy and somewhat sleepy city now has no gas or running water and the power supply is unstable due to damage to the network difficult to repair, according to the town hall.
Piles of concrete beams cut the road leading from the beach to the city, along which trenches have been dug.
Katrine Johns has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Gal Post, Katrine Johns worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my firstname.lastname@example.org 1-800-268-7128