This is one in an occasional series of dispatches about life amid the war in Ukraine.

PREOBRAZHENKA, Ukraine — This small village in southeastern Ukraine looks serene at first glance, a typical Ukrainian village with abundant fields and lovingly tended yards. But it has not been spared by the war.

“In the night it’s silent, so we hear distant sounds of shelling,” said one resident, Tamara, 59, who asked to be identified only by her first name to avoid unwanted attention. “During the day, we’re planting as many vegetables as possible — nobody knows what winter will bring.”

When Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine started in February of last year, she and the three granddaughters she is raising moved to her home’s cellar, because it was “loud and scary outside.” But within days, they realized that it was impossible to live there in the dank cold.

“Many villagers left when it all started, but eventually most of them returned,” Tamara said on a recent afternoon. “Here we have a house, garden, and our own vegetables, but what will you do far from here without money and home? So we stayed.”

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Days later, shelling left three people in Preobrazhenka with critical wounds, according to the local authorities.

Ukrainian soldiers carried Mr. Serenkov’s coffin.Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
A lunch table after the funeral.Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

But it was quiet as Tamara spoke. Her granddaughters were helping in the garden and playing with their little dog, Javeline. They were well aware that the village had already had two funerals for soldiers killed fighting the invaders, and a third was coming. “We’re not sure if we’ll go to the funeral tomorrow, but you’ll know where it will be, everybody will be there,” said the youngest, Yana, 9.

Another villager who asked to be identified only by his first name, Yurii, 69, was joking and laughing until he started to talk about his family. One of his sons is on the front line.

Yana, 8, center, playing with her dog, with her siblings and their grandmother outside their home.Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
After Mr. Serenkov’s funeral, his parents, Asiia Serenkov, 81, foreground, and Petro Serenkov, 72, second from right, gathered with other mourners in their backyard.Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

On the day of the third funeral, the village was crowded from the early morning on. People lined up along the main street, holding flowers and flags, waiting for the funeral procession so they could say farewell to Ruslan Serenkov, 37, a machine gunner who died on June 5 during a combat mission near Bakhmut.

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His widow, Nadiia Serenkova, 34, is now faced with raising their two children, Sophia, 8, and Illia, 12.

“I can’t talk about him now,” she said of her husband. “I just can’t imagine my life without him.”

Misfortune was no stranger to the Serenkov family. His mother, Asiia, 81, is from Kazakhstan, and his father, Petro, 72, is from Belarus. After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 sent radioactivity into Belarus, they fled their home there in the city of Homel, starting a new life in Preobrazhenka.

Asiia Serenkov said that her son liked the army. Shortly before his death, she said, he told her: “Mom, you can’t imagine how many good people are there. I should have gone to the army much earlier.”


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