Unprecedented Tragedy Strikes Maui A Closer Look at the Devastating Wildfires and their Aftermath 3 2

In the midst of relentless shelling and turmoil caused by Russian artillery in Ukraine’s front-line city of Kramatorsk, a remarkable sanctuary has emerged. People gather three times a week in the morning, seeking solace and relief from the stress inflicted by constant conflict through the practice of yoga in a humble basement.

Soothing melodies fill the basement, creating an oasis of serenity amidst the palpable humidity. Serhii Zaloznyi, a 52-year-old yoga instructor, guides the participants gently into a meditative state, allowing them to momentarily detach from the harsh external world.

The occasional rush of water through the building’s pipes serves as a poignant reminder that this oasis is, in fact, nestled in the basement. Despite the unpredictable surroundings, Zaloznyi’s soothing words guide the participants toward inner peace, tranquility, and balance as they breathe deeply with closed eyes.

For these participants, the “external world” is a reality marked by sirens sounding at regular intervals and the disruptive noise of explosions. Kramatorsk, located just 30 kilometers from the battlefront in the Donetsk region, has witnessed some of the fiercest fighting in eastern Ukraine. The devastating impact of a Russian missile striking a well-known restaurant in late July still reverberates, claiming 13 lives and leaving the city’s residents in shock.

Yet, in this unassuming basement within a residential neighborhood, people find safety and security through yoga sessions that persist despite adversity. Zaloznyi explains, “In the beginning, the war overwhelmed people, and right here is where they found peace in their hearts and souls, tranquility, and simply solid ground beneath their feet.”

Among the attendees is Viktoria Omelchenko, 47, who initially left Kramatorsk but later returned. She shares, “Yoga brought me to emotional balance. Yoga classes gradually calmed me down, balanced me, taught me not to be afraid, to feel in harmony and balance. That’s why these classes are really very important, especially in our city. When it’s restless, they help a lot.”

When the conflict first erupted, Zaloznyi transitioned to teaching online as many of his students had sought refuge in safer regions. However, as people began to return, he resumed in-person sessions last spring. The gym that once hosted his classes had transformed into a shelter for families with children, where yoga mats have been replaced with emergency supplies, including water.

Adapting swiftly, Zaloznyi secured a new space, an abandoned beauty salon, graciously lent by the former owners who had left Kramatorsk. Despite the remnants of its former life, complete with photographs from hairdressing workshops and dusty shelves filled with professional care shampoo in the improvised changing room, the participants remain undeterred.

With closed eyes, they diligently follow Zaloznyi’s guidance, moving from one yoga position to another in the dimly lit room. The windows are covered with colored tape, a precautionary measure to prevent glass from shattering during potential attacks, providing an added sense of security.

Zaloznyi’s classes are priced at a modest 90 Ukrainian hryvnias ($3), attracting a regular attendance of five to six people. Among them is Valentyna Vandysheva, 61, who joined the classes three months ago for both health benefits and emotional respite. She reflects, “Physical activity balances emotions, so it helped. You don’t react as strongly to sirens and explosions.”

In this basement sanctuary, a sense of community has blossomed among the participants. Despite the moments of shelling and anxiety, they find comfort in the belief that when they come together for calming yoga, everything will be fine. Emotionally supporting each other, they have transformed this space into a familiar and safe haven.

Serhii Zaloznyi aptly sums it up, saying, “I would say that our room is alive already. It protects us. This space, it’s completely familiar and safe for us.” Amidst the chaos of war, they have found a source of solace and strength in each other and the practice of yoga.

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