When I graduated from college, I went to work for a PR agency. , I remember myself swimming in a pool, after a month of endless press releases, press clippings, and press kits, and thinking–what’s the point? What’s the outcome? The answer upset me. It’s possible I poorly chose the way to apply myself and had I chosen something other than PR I’d have found myself. But it was what it was.
Back then, under a thick layer of chlorinated water, I thought about how much I wanted to go somewhere as a volunteer, so that my efforts would be useful and lead me to believe I do not live for nought. Volunteer at an orphanage, a retirement home, a hospice. Of course, I had no idea what these places were like, and that in reality helping there is an unbelievably difficult endeavor. Although perhaps I realized what the reality was like, because I did not advance beyond thinking about it. Even today I can say I’m not quite up to it. But by paths unknown, without even wishing it, I became a leader (is there a more correct way of stating it?) of a tiny unofficial welfare fund for aiding the people of the Donbass. There are many of us and the main people in this process are our Lugansk Zhenya and Lena. It’s also my many helpers and friends here, in Moscow, other cities, and other countries. I don’t fully know the scale of work we’ve done. I only see what’s happening today and write about it. We got ourselves into various situations, sometimes got experienced disappointment, bitterness. A lot happened–some of that you’ve read about and experienced with us. But there are several people whom we help on a permanent basis, people who have become flags, markers.
Taisiya Pavlovna went to wash floors in the neighboring stairwell. She had no money, the tiny Lugansk pension is not enough, and she also has to feed her grandson who lives with her. Neighbors pay her 400 rubles a month for this work, supplementing her tiny budget.
The day was hot, very much so. The Lugansk heat can be treacherous. This is one of the hottest steppe heats there is. On that day it was 45 degrees Celsius in the shade–or about 120 Fahrenheit. She went home right after washing. She felt fine, only a little uneasy. She laid down in her apartment, closed her eyes, and woke up naked surrounded by whilte walls. And butterflies before her eyes. She spent a day unconscious in intensive care. She was saved by her grandson Sasha. Another hour and she’d have been past saving. But the boy felt something–he came home earlier than usual and found her unconscious.
Larisa’s husband and son went off to defend their home on the Donbass in early 2014. The son was 20, when the war began he took up arms. They both defended Severodonetsk. Now this city is under Ukraine. During the UAF breakthrough, they both served at an outpost between Severodonetsk and Rubezhnoye. The father sent the son to Dremov to get reinforcements. They arrived–the father and others were brought out from under fire. But not everyone was evacuated, some remained. But here’s the interesting thing: there was a local “forest ranger”. It’s not his call sign, he genuinely was one. He brought the UAF through back trails to encircle those who remained. Who were all killed. Then he ran from his “hometown”, knowing his days there were numbered after what he did. Valera, Larisa’s husband, died later, in Kirovsk in April 2015. He is buried on the Alley of Glory in Stakhanov. The son suffered a serious wound after that.
Starting in early June, we dreamt of photos in lovely dresses against the backdrop of fantastic, lavender-strewn mountains.
Awe-inspiring purple valleys with the sea in the background. But every day it’s either the heat, or the exhaustion, or shish-kebab, or work. The trip was being postponed even as the heat grew. “Are we going?” — “Tomorrow”. For a month.
But is the lavender going anywhere? It’s been blooming fiercely for the whole month of June. I remember it was like that last year too. And two years ago.
Every paragraph of this post is saturated with facts which one can’t wrap one’s head around. It’s some kind of cold horror. I can’t believe why things turn out that way, with some people suffering so much pain, suffering, and desperation that it’s nearly impossible to believe.
Natasha has had epilepsy her entire life. She had almost no fits before the war, but after 2014 they became constant. Natasha used to work at the post office but was asked to leave after the first fit. Then things got worse. She’d get fired at ever next workplace after the first fit. No labor contracts help. Because they don’t exist, as there are few jobs and plenty of workers. The employer does not need someone disabled. But Natasha is a single mom, who needs to feed not only herself but also her disabled mom and two kids.
–Ira told me that there are people who help terminal cancer patients without any compensation. She gave me your number. I tried to take care of it myself but wasn’t able to.
We are in shock–Ira, our Ira, died in the Spring. This young and lovely girl with two small children passed away after a long struggle with cancer. We tried to help her in every way we could. But we did not succeed. We provided nearly everything she needed, including chemo preparations, but the cancer was stronger. Or maybe it was simply the war, which leaves people like Ira no chance of survival.
Overcoming such a disease under such stress…I know that if it weren’t for the war, Ira would have lived. I sense that. Only those who were in Lugansk understand what they lived through during the spring and summer of ’14. In the city that was being destroyed from all manner of weapons, including aircraft. I saw similar things in the besieged Pervomaysk in December 2014, and even though I was there only for a short time, I still haven’t gotten over it. But they lived there for months on end…
(To read more about Ira, click on the “Ira” tag at the end of the post)
The woman who called us is Sveta. She’s from Lugansk region, but lives in the Ukraine-occupied part. Not LPR. Her stepfather has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and a cyst on a kidney. He was throwing up for three days, and then he was told in the Lisichansk hospital he needs surgery, but there are neither medications nor surgeons available. He was advised to go to Lugansk, LPR. It as a program of “free assistance to compatriots”. Keep in mind, this program has existed for a long time, it treats EVERYONE who has a Ukrainian passport. FOR FREE. Yes, they lack certain types of preparations, instruments, but it’s FREE, and for many it’s salvation and the last chance. Therefore the Lugansk hospital’s cancer ward has a long waiting list.
Friends, I can’t not share with you the letter Vika sent. She was very embarrassed because it has many mistakes, but allowed me to publish it anyway. This is Vika’s first letter on her new computer for the blind that we and you gave her, written without mom’s help!!! Vika lost her sight recently, and for her the internet was simply texts read to her by her mom. Now a whole new world is open to her.
“Hello, this is Vika writing, Im not used to writing and usng the soc networks but Im getting better at responding to messages fro friends evdkkya tahnk you and to everyone who gave me the ability how are you doing hows the daughter saed her my big greetings”
I was sorting through the photos from our March visit to Lugansk and found this one.
That’s how the three kids of Ira and Petya were seeing us off. They are from Pervomaysk, or rather from a small village nearby that’s under UAF control.
It was snowing, and the boys were glued to the window and kept waving to us while we were trying to start the car. We looked at each other to the last.
Now it’s hot summer, Moscow and other big cities are up to their ears in the World Cup carnival.
Seryozha had a heart attack in May.
He’s been taking many preparations due to his progressing polyarthritis which, unfortunately, also affect his heart.
I wouldn’t say his mood is combative. He even wrote, asking when I’m coming: “will I ever see you again?”
The doctors prescribed a whole range of medications which he’ll have to take for the rest of his life.
His retirement home can only partly fill these needs, and even then with poor substitutes.
We’ve been taking care of Seryozha since the spring of 2015. I don’t like that phrase, though, all the more since Seryozha has become very close to us. But I don’t even know how else to phrase it.
Seryozha lost his home in Khryashchevatoye due to the shelling in the summer of 2014, and then also his leg due to the trauma and illness that he’s had for a long time.
He now lives in a retirement home in Lugansk.
To read more about Seryozha, click on the “Kutsenko” tag at the bottom of this post.
And now he’ll need these medications regularly.
Please label any contributions intended for Seryozha “Kutsenko”.
When the time comes to write another report on helping this or that Donbass family, I invariably freeze in front of the computer for a long time. The first two hundred such posts were full of my emotions and worries. Then they became repetitive. The emotions and worries. Tolstoy wrote that all happy families are alike, unlike the unhappy ones.
But I came to the conclusion that the range of suffering is not all that wide. There are unbelievably many stories of human suffering, but sometimes when delving into a new one, I catch myself thinking I’ve already heard it somewhere. It happened somewhere else. So how to write about it in a small piece of text without repeating oneself?
Is the pain losing its sharpness? Becoming dulled?
No question about it. It all goes in a circle, and I ever more frequently think about my own grandmothers and grandfathers who survived the war. I ever more frequently hear echoes in my own life of us all being children of war. Grandchildren of war, even though it’s long gone.
From this, the meaning of the Donbass tragedy became for me something that already happened, even though it’s expressed with different words.
But that doesn’t make it easier.
Aleksandra is a single mother of three–Tatyana, Nastya, and Lera. This is one of her daughters.