Fearing bombs and war, Kharkiv families spend a month underground

KHARKIV, Ukraine March 24 (Reuters) - In a Ukrainian city battered by bombs since the start of Russia's invasion, Natalia Shaposhnik and her daughter Veronika live in a blue and yellow train parked in a metro station deep underground.

For four long weeks, Shaposhnik and hundreds like her have hunkered down inside the station in the north of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city.

With destroyed or heavily damaged buildings on almost every block, the streets were eerily quiet and empty above ground on Thursday.

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Down in the station, families crowded together, most of them from the city's northern outskirts which have suffered near-daily shelling.

Women and children slept side by side on cold concrete floors, or set up home in warmer train carriages divided by curtains into smaller family rooms.

They go out only to walk their dogs or to get a fresh breath of air, a small respite from the dank humidity underground.

"It's not better than home but it is liveable," said Shaposhnik, 36, who used to work in a pet shop before the war.

Even underground, the war is ever-present.

On Thursday, a Russian missile hit a metro station two stops away from where Shaposhnik lives with her daughter, killing and wounding several people.

Outside, while a crew cleaned up the shrapnel from the site, a car crammed with wounded Ukrainian soldiers screeched past.

A month on from the start of the invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has cast the war as an existential battle not only for his country but for all of Europe.

Russia refers to the invasion as a "special military operation" and says its forces do not target civilians.

Shaposhnik said she still knew Russians who did not believe that civilians have been shelled, despite the carnage of the past four weeks.

"I wrote to them (that) I've been sheltering with my child in the metro for a month and they don't believe me. They say 'it is your own fault, you are to blame, it is you, you, you," she said.

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Reporting by Thomas Peter and Vitalii Hnidyi Writing by Mari Saito Editing by Andrew Heavens

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