From Leningrad to Kharkiv, a life bookended by war and despair

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KHARKIV, Ukraine, March 20 (Reuters) - A lifetime ago and 1,400 km away, Margarita Morozova lived through the World War Two siege of Leningrad. Now the 87-year-old Ukrainian finds herself once more in a city under attack.

The retired librarian lives in Kharkiv, a Ukrainian city of 1.5 million people that lies 25 km from the Russian border. It has been barraged by Russian air and rocket strikes that have reduced many buildings to rubble.

"I could never imagine that a new war would start in my old age. In my worst nightmare, I could not even imagine that such a massacre would be repeated, it is horrible," she told Reuters.

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Morozova was just seven years old in 1941 when German forces began the siege of the Soviet city of Leningrad in Russia, now known as St. Petersburg, where around 1.5 million died during two years of blockade.

She said she still has vivid memories of the Nazi bombardments after she and her mother missed a ferry out of the port, only to watch with horror as the boat was then destroyed by shells.

After the war, she moved to Kharkiv in Ukraine, where she has lived for the last 60 years and where she now finds unmistakable echoes of her past.

"In my childhood I hid from bombardments in the corridor. We took shelter in old buildings. And it is the same now," said Morozova, a native Russian speaker who has a daughter living in Kharkiv and a son in St. Petersburg.

"Once the shelling of Kharkiv begins, when the air raid siren is on, we go to the corridor. We don’t know if it will protect us or not," she added. "It is terrifying when young people die, when beautiful buildings collapse."

Earlier this week the mayor of Kharkiv said the city had been under constant attack by Russian forces. Russia refers to the invasion as a "special military operation" and says its forces do not target civilians.

Kharkiv, an engineering and transport hub, is no stranger to war. During World War Two it was fought over by German and Russian forces, and changed hands several times.

"We saw war and we know what it is like," Morozova said. "I want the war to be over, I want them to leave Ukraine in peace. Ukraine is an independent country. What are they doing here?"

Caught up in a conflict between the land of her birth and the land where she lives now, Morozova believes it will be a disaster for both sides.

"It is a disaster for the Russian people too. Their children are dying for nothing. I am asking: 'What for?'," she said.

"During the Great Patriotic War, fine, it was clear we fought fascists, different people. While here, they are friendly people. We have common and close cultures. The languages are close. How is it possible that it has happened. It is dreadful."

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Reporting by Vitalii Hnydyi in Kharkiv and Margaryta Chornokondratenko in Lviv; Writing by Stephen Farrell in Lviv; Editing by Pravin Char

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