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A Border Runs Through Their Families. Now It’s a Front Line.

When Valentina’s small town in Russia came under heavy bombardment in March by Ukrainian forces, her daughter Alla, who lives a short distance across the border near Kharkiv, would text her mother to make sure she was all right.

Now that Kharkiv and its surrounding region are under heavy attack by Russia, it’s Valentina who is checking with her daughter to make sure that everything is fine. The regular check-ins have continued as fighting intensified across the new front Russia opened this month.

“So she’s calling me asking, ‘Mom, how is it there? It’s so loud here. I think there’s something heading your way from our direction. Mom, be careful!’” said Valentina, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who did not want to give her full name out of fear of repercussions for both herself and her daughter in Ukraine.

“I say ‘OK, daughter, OK, it’s all right. How are you doing?’”

Similar conversations are taking place all along the border region now caught up in Russia’s advance on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Life in these areas is not just physically dangerous, it can be emotionally jarring, as sympathies are tested by family bonds that reach across the border.

Valentina surveyed the ruins of a store hit by shelling, in Grayvoron, Russia.

A market selling mostly military clothes in Shebekino.

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