From afar, camping next to a large pond in southern Ukraine looks idyllic; a small line of cars and vans, the strange tent pitched on the ground and the smell of grilled meat.
But, up close, it quickly becomes clear that this is no vacation spot.
Instead, it’s where groups of families gather each night to escape the Russian bombardment of their town about 10 miles away.
“It’s terrible, very scary,” said Maryna But, 42, describing life in Marharnets. She said about a third of the buildings had been destroyed.
“There are a lot of explosions, the windows are shaking, even my cat is running out of the house… It’s quieter here.”
His town is across the river from Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, which is under Russian control.
Clashes between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the region mean a double nightmare for local residents, terrified of war and the potential for nuclear disaster.
Maryna and her husband, Oleksandr, have spent the past three weeks living in their white van at night by the pond and only returning to Marharnets during the day. They own a few stores selling construction materials and feel they should continue to work despite the risk.
“We will run away from here when there is nothing left, when the city dies,” she said.
“Mom, what is it?”
In a blue motorhome parked next to theirs is Maryna’s friend Tetiana Shumkina, 31, with her husband and three-year-old daughter.
They too have been camping on this site for three weeks. But Tetiana, a teacher, said Russian attacks on the Marharnets had become so intense over the past three days that they no longer returned home during the day.
“It’s restless, unstable,” she says.
Her granddaughter, Emma, was frightened by the sounds of war.
“At night, when the artillery was firing, she woke up and asked: ‘Mom, what is this?'” says Tetiana.
Distant thuds of the fighting could still be heard at the pond.
Tetiana held her daughter against her and played with her to make her happy.
The young mother said she was also frightened by the war and the possibility of a shell or rocket hitting Zaporizhzhia, triggering a radiation leak.
“It’s all bad. War is bad. People are dying. Children are dying… I can’t choose, both are terrible to me.”
“Even men are afraid”
A team of inspectors from the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is due to visit the nuclear facility this week to check for damage and assess the safety of the infrastructure.
But officials lack the power to stop the fighting, which endangered Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in the first place.
For Alla Shevchuk, 62, the risk has become too great.
She and her husband camped in their small red car in a field on the way to the pond, which also drew crowds of frightened Marharnets residents.
“It’s scary, very scary. Even the men are scared. For the first time in my life, I saw that the men were scared,” Alla said, her eyes filling with tears and her voice cracking.
“We have a friend in the city – he suffered a concussion. There was an explosion in broad daylight and he went deaf… How do you get back there during the day? You don’t know when, where and at what place [an attack might happen]. Simply awful. Terrible.”
“I’m ready to go – I’m scared”
The couple had gone home to town during the day to charge their phones and feed their cat, but Alla said it was getting too dangerous.
She opened the trunk of the car to reveal a stuffed suitcase, a few bags with other things, and a plastic bowl full of fresh tomatoes.
“I’m disabled and I have to take everything with me,” she said, pointing to her belongings. “It’s a shame, but that’s how you travel, with everything you need.”
Speaking on Sunday, she said she planned to take a train on Monday to Poland, where her adult son lived, having decided she could no longer stay in Marharnets. Although her husband wants to stay in the area for now.
“I’m ready to go,” she said. “I’m afraid.”