Seeming abandoned by day, the damaged factory building in eastern Ukraine comes alive at night, when the smell of fresh bread wafts through its shattered windows.
It is one of two large-scale bakeries still in operation in the Ukrainian part of the Donetsk region, most of which is under Russian occupation.
The others had to close because they had been damaged by the fighting or because their electricity and gas supplies had been cut off.
The Kostiantynivka bakery adapted its working hours to the rhythm of the war.
Factory employees come to work at 7 p.m. to start kneading the dough. At dawn, truckers arrive to pick up fresh breads to deliver to towns and villages where grocery stores are usually only open in the morning when, most of the time, there is a lull in Russian bombardment.
“We bake more bread at night so that we can distribute it to stores in the morning,” says bakery manager Oleksandr Milov.
The factory bakes about 7 tons of bread per day, or about 17,500 loaves. Half goes to the Ukrainian army.
Another factory in Druzhkivka is still operational, producing buns, breads and cookies.
But the Kostiantynivka and Druzhkivka bakeries are not making enough bread for the approximately 300,000 people who remain in the Ukrainian-controlled part of the Donetsk region. In the south of the region, entrepreneurs bring in bread from neighboring Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia regions, and some supermarkets have small bakeries.
Kostiantynivka bakery has remained open despite many challenges. In April, it lost its gas supply, but the kilns were reconfigured to run on coal – a system that had not been used at this plant since World War II. The coal boiler is operated by three men.
Milov tried six types of coal before finding the right type with high heat output. One of the advantages of the coal system is that the plant will not need additional heating in winter. There will be no central heating in the area this winter due to the lack of gas.
The bakery encountered its next problem in June, when Russia occupied the town of Lyman in the north of the region where the mill that supplied flour to the Kostiantynivka bakery was located. Milov had to buy flour from a supplier in the Zaporizhia region, 150 km (about 90 miles) from Kostiantynivka.
The additional transport costs increased the price of bread. The same goes for the inflation rate, which is around 20% in Ukraine.
Another concern is the grain shortage. In 2021, the harvest in Ukraine exceeded 100 million tons of grain. The new crop, according to preliminary estimates of the Ministry of Agricultural Policy, is 65-67 million tons. Since Russia attacked not only fields but also grain storage, some farmers are exporting grain for storage abroad.
The Kostiantynivka bakery has 20 drivers who deliver bread daily, not only to cities, but also to half-empty frontline villages.
One of them, Vasyl Moiseienko, a retiree, arrives in his car at the factory at 6am and fills it with still warm bread. It shows the crack in the windshield left by shrapnel a few weeks ago during a bread delivery.
“Who else will go?” I’m old, so I could drive,” Moiseienko said.
He drives on bad roads to the village of Dyliivka, 15 km (9 miles) from the line of contact. The driver quickly unloads the bread and heads for another town on the front line.
About 100 people live in Dyliivka, but the village seems empty. Every 10 to 15 minutes, sounds of artillery are heard. It is difficult to find a mobile phone connection in the area, but the data network works. The local store clerk writes in the village Viber chat that bread has been brought. And in 15 minutes, the store fills with people.
Liubov Lytvynova, 76, takes several loaves of bread. She says to dry some of it to make breadcrumbs that she keeps in her cellar. She puts a loaf in the freezer to keep it longer.
“We only live in fear. And if they don’t deliver bread, what are we going to do? said Lytvynova.