My book about the Donbass was written during the 2015-16 winter. At that time we were busy taking Vika from Lugansk to Moscow to try to save her sight.
Vika was taken in by one of the best opthalmological wards in Moscow. The hospital at FMBA.
While Zhenya and I were driving around Moscow, Vika was smiling from ear to ear and listened to our descriptions of what we saw. We drove through the center, and Our Bellflower kept listening to the street noise. It was her first time in Moscow so she wanted to know every detail.
So I’ve been writing about families whom we’ve been helping. Here’s Katya, and here’s Ulyana, Taisiya, Serhozha. They are like a cartoon flicking in front of one’s eyes, making these texts a monotonous routine for you, and a similar routine for me when it comes to writing them.
There are already over 700 texts on the blog with the “donbass” tag, and there aren’t many reports or thoughts about the war among them. The majority are people stories. Reports. Dear Lord, what word can one use in this context. But they are reports. About aid, but they are also at the same time people stories. Stories of lives of those who are over there. In the midst of war.
I’m literally a typewriter, mechanically cataloguing what I overhear. It’s not pleasant to write these reports. One has to say why we are helping. What happened to the family. Fit it all into simple phrases, without waxing eloquent. Which means it’s very repetitive: “shelling began”, “they escaped only with clothes on their back”, “lived in a cellar”, “husband left”, “a stroke after 2014”, “heart attack”, “the house was destroyed.” And how many stories where children saw their parents die? How many abandoned women? Elderly?
Over 400 (and perhaps more?) on this blog alone.
Not for the typewriter.
She only catalogues. And you read.
That’s just a statement of fact.
This is Lyosha. 14, disabled, lives in Lugansk. Lyosha is a big boy who will never become a responsible adult. Spent the whole life with his family in Lugansk. Yes, shelling, bombing, major deterioration due to the stress.
And yes, Lyosha’s life depends on strong medications he has to take every day. Which were not available in the summer of ’14. There wasn’t even food or electricity. And there is nothing more terrifying than empty pharmacies.
Katya is 13 and she has a class 2 disability. She and her mom lived in Trekhizbenka until 2014. Now it’s controlled by UAF.
When “it began”, shells came every day but they sat in the cellar to the last. And when the “breakthrough” began, they escaped to Lugansk with only their clothes on their backs.” But when they got to Lugansk, it was under fire too. Nobody could believe this would last a long time, or that it was “for real.” Everyone thought it would end any day now. But you yourselves know what it was like in Lugansk. The city was being “killed” from every available weapon. There was no phone service, electricity, the city was “closed.”
After all that, the girl didn’t speak for three months. Nearly all of her problems got worse. She has a whole range of them, including epilepsy, cognitive problems, kidney and sight issues.
When the girl said “mama, I want borshch,” mother started to cry…
Ulyana is a tiny and charming girl with a heart flaw. She is in the hospital every two months.
When she was one, she slept in cellars, dropped to the ground at any sound, and already know that “Hail” and “Hurricane” are not merely “weather problems.” And as any other child from Lugansk, Pervomaysk, or Donetsk, she’s still terrified of any loud noise. Their building was hit many times but their apartment miraculously was untouched.
Across the street, there was a huge construction materials store, Epitsentr. It’s no longer there, nothing was left after 2014. There was a fire station next to it which was deliberately targeted, like other infrastructure sites which were the first to be taken out.
Sasha looks like a hero from Gaidar’s tales. Or perhaps not Gaidar’s, but there is something about him that’s positive and attractive. The pressed lips, the modest but penetrating gaze.
A beautiful boy with a terrible fate.
Sasha lives in Lugansk with his grandmother Taisiya. His mother was wounded by a shell fragment in 2014. They managed to put her entrails back together at the hospital, but she died two years later. He hasn’t seen his father for many years but he has not formally abandoned him and is not about to. Therefore Taisiya cannot obtain any child care benefits. She herself was in a hospital not too long ago following a stroke, with two days in intensive care.
You have to see this!!!
You see the girl on the photo, leaning against a door jamb?
That very same Anya who stopped walking during the winter. Her legs could no longer support her so she was able to move only by holding on to stretched-out ropes and stools. “Stress, nerves”–doctors who did not understand what was happening just raised their arms and said many words. But behind all of it there is only one word–“war”.
I wrote about her back in April. Anya is a mother of three who has a loving husband. After an unexpected illness, the family’s entire income went to treat it. But the money was desperately short. And thanks to you, we were able to collect enough for the first round of treatment.
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.
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.
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”
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”.