This is Natasha and her grandmother. They live alone because on August 3 of the bloody 2014 their garden was hit by a shell. The house survived though the blast shattered all the windows, but a single piece of shrapnel flew in. Just a single piece of shrapnel. That was enough to kill Natasha’s mom right in front of her. The shrapnel pierced her head.
Natasha did not say anything for a week, and it was a miracle she resumed talking later. She stuttered for a year. Her grandma really aged in that instant. She’s only 70, and at the time, 3 years ago, she looked different.
I began helping the Donbass in 2014, when I and my friends, thanks to you, my readers and online contacts, brought lots of food to Pervomaysk in a big truck. In 2014, the city was in a catastrophic condition, and it literally suffered from hunger. It was cut off from the rest of LPR and found itself in a humanitarian blockade, where even OSCE wouldn’t go. People lived in cellars and bomb shelters, shops were closed, and there was nothing to eat. Only communal cafeterias worked, which fed people for free. We kept returning until the summer of ’15, about once every three weeks, with food for these cafeterias. Then the situation improved, the cafeterias were closed, so we stopped our visits. Although in my view such cafeterias are still needed nearly everywhere in the LPR. For the needy. There are many single elderly, multi-child families, and simply needy individuals who are trying to ends meet and suffer from poor nutrition.
But that’s not what this post is about.
It’s about how we started with delivering food for lots of people. I never imagined I’d become an aid coordinating center of sorts.
I couldn’t wrap my head around it even during our first visit in a car loaded with food and clothes. I felt this was a one-time action, but people continued to turn to me and that’s how it came to be. The Little Hirosima blog helped, even though I created it for something entirely different. With time, our aid became targeted–we help those who are in poor straits, who can’t cope on their own.
In December there was a prisoner exchange between the Republics and Ukraine. Among them was Petya who’s been in captivity for about 2 years. He and his wife Ira and thee kids lived in the village of Zolotoye-4. Near Pervomaysk, but on the Ukrainian side. Petya joined the militia: “When they started to kill us from aircraft–we all knew who was doing it, saw the planes, and I couldn’t just sit at home.” Several of their neighbors perished right in front of them. Died on the spot.
Petya’s parents and sister left for Western Ukraine 8 years earlier. When the Donbass was bombed, before Petya joined the militia he called them. Called to hear the voices of relatives, hear words of support, share the shock of what he saw–it was impossible to accept and understand what just happened. Nobody could believe what was happening–aircraft, and bombs falling onto ordinary homes. His own mother told him: “It’s your own fault.” Then he called the sister, who answered: “What did mother tell you? She was right, don’t call us anymore.”
They’ve had no contact since. An ordinary story–there are hundreds of such relations, people who refuse to believe what the relatives from Donbass say, who don’t want to hear anything and who believe that “it’s their own fault.”
Dear God, how many times have I heard these words…How many times…
I have an incredible pile of reports on the recent aid work in Lugansk. I don’t know where to start. Then there’s the damned injury which has temporarily deprived me of sports, which is always dangerous to people around me. Peaceful atom, if not released, may become dangerous.
So I’ve decided to remind New Year is nigh.
My first visit to the Donbass was in late ’14, when there was active fighting. We were bringing food to Pervomaysk bomb shelters and we didn’t even reflect on the fact it was almost New Year. The second trip was a week later, right before the holiday–December 28. At that time people wanting to help the inhabitants of the Donbass were bringing us everything they had available–matches, clothing, noodles, canned meat. A friend came with 15 holiday boxes of chocolate. He brought them and said “give them to the kids there–it’s a holiday there too.”
“It’s a holiday there too”–that phrase sounded surreal. I didn’t get its meaning, threw the boxes into the truck and we took off down m4 in the darkness.
What kind of Grandfather Frost, what kind of a holiday can you expect? There’s nothing there! People are freezing and starving–that’s how it was in Pervomaysk in ’14. My head was full of the explosions and of the destroyed houses.
The Lugansk City Center for Social Services is assisting 13 families with foster children.
You know some of them. For example, the Testeshnikovs, whose daughter Kristina is an insulin-dependent diabetic. We’ve brought her test-strips more than once.
The Testeshnikovs actually have two foster daughters, and not only Kristina has health problems. The second girl has heart problems.
The Testeshnikovs took in the two girls when they were not very young, and at the time they were healthy. The problems appeared later. They did not give the girls back. What do you think–is it right, and incorrect, for me to view this father and mother as heroes? And incorrect when they behave otherwise? Because it’s normal for many people return foster kids when they discover these types of problems. When they discover pathologies and disabilities, even after many years of living together. How many stories like that did we hear in orphanages. Therefore I’m happy even in situations where it should be a normal thing to do.
The parents love the girls and are doing their best to take care of them.
Friends, I have an unexpected request.
Unexpected even for me.
As you know, we and our friends and readers assist the people of Donbass.
During these past years we’ve done much, including taking people to Russia for treatment.
Recently I was asked to help, as someone with ties to benevolent activities.
I was somewhat taken aback, since the matter concerned a young boy from Kiev.
Actually, I was stunned, because I have no idea how aid organizations function in Ukraine, and moreover me writing about this could hurt the boy’s family. But then I realized how absurd this situation was. Kids are beyond politics, and I hope that people from various points of view will comprehend that.
When we were in Lugansk, I really wanted to visit our lovely Ira. Listen to her guitar and singing and have tea with her. She’s a person of rare kindness, and one always wants to be around her. She has cancer and, to be honest, when we thought of bringing her to Moscow, the doctors said she was in a bad shape. But Ira never lost hope. She smiled unforcedly, genuinely, sincerely. Such smiles are becoming ever more rare.
Back during the winter she was in bed, never got out, and she was given no chances of survival when she and her husband started treatment. We were not told what kind of treatment. The husband, who is an emergency care medic, helped her a lot.
And then she started to get better. In a big way. We and Zhenya even agreed not to write about it, only mention it obliquely. We were afraid to even speak about it.
After all, she didn’t simply start to get up. She blossomed, improved in every way.
September 1 is right around the corner.
My entire news stream is full of pleas not to buy kids flowers on September 1 but rather donate the money to foundations.
Looking at the thousands of aid fund reposts, I realized I forgot about one thing.
On the Donbass, tens and hundreds of kids will also go to school. And they will also need notebooks, erasers, and pens. They’ll need everything, just like our kids.
War or no war. Kids go to school.
I forgot about this, as if it were happening in a parallel universe.
On the photo, the director of children’s regional intensive care in Lugansk.
It is he who saved Kolya Siluanov whom we sent, thanks to Liza Glinka, to Moscow for treatment.
Nearly the whole staff remained at their posts during the bombardment of Lugansk in 2014. They worked without pay for over six months. It was not simply difficult to get to work. It was life-threatening. Everyone who was in the city then knows what was going on. The city was closed, and many were not able to leave. They didn’t realize a real war just broke out and they will be targets. For aircraft, heavy artillery. People hid in cellars and were afraid to come out. The city was hit every day, with precision. Homes, schools, hospitals. People were being killed off.
No communications, no power. Nothing was working. I wrote about it a million times but I never tire of it.
These people remained and saved the kids.
The director turned to us for help.