I’ve spent a long time thinking whether I should write about this. And even now I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing by making it public.
In January I wrote about Valentina Feodorovna who lives alone in Pervomaysk. In a city which is on the line of contact with Ukraine, where there’s constant fighting. One son died a long time ago, the second one recently of cancer.
Sister and her husband died in August ’14 due to a direct hit on their house. The grandkids live in Leningrad Region. We met this lost, constantly crying woman who has lip cancer. In spite of her thousand ailments, she would bring out more and more photos of her kids, her youth, and showed them to us. And she would cry and cry, constantly repeating she was all alone.
The village of Molodezhnoye is on the very border. One can’t call it a “grey zone”, strictly speaking, but it is a dead zone without shops or any other life. This is the very border. There is fighting, shells come from this and that side. Fields along this entire road between the last Pervomaysk checkpoint and toward this tiny village are littered with collapsed power transmission towers.
When we entered the village which consists of several streets, we found ourselves in complete silence.
It was the end of March, LPR was under a blanket of snow. I sat in the back seat and, as usual, photographed everything. We stopped opposite of a small destroyed building with a few gaping holes made by shells. I for some reason lowered the window and took a couple of photos. I can’t say I saw something unusual. An ordinary building, one of thousands bombed-out buildings on the Donbass. The camera clicked, when Lena suddenly tugged at me:
–Did you photograph them?
And she was pointing at the corner of the house, where a man with an assault rifle stood. At that moment he started to wave his hand and walk in our direction. Then he hastened his pace and started to run. As he was running, several other armed men came out of the building and came toward us.
In spite of our frequent trips to the war zone, we are not in contact with any fighters. We usually work with “civilians”, administration services, social services, etc. Although, if LPR becomes Ukraine and the reunification our liberals want takes place, all of these civilian workers will be lumped together with the militiamen and charged with “separatism” and “treason.” Whether you just helped the elderly or sat in the trenches, you aided terrorists.
But we do have friends among the militia. I briefly mentioned one of them, a fellow student from MGU, wounded near Debaltsevo.
There is also Kolya. We met in Chernukhino in the spring of ’15. Zhenya invited Kolya to be our escort. I wanted to write about him then, but it didn’t happen.
–We were behind the partition, then went down into the cellar, our house has a cellar, but we couldn’t breathe there.
–Was this at night or in daytime?
–It was exactly 4:48. January 15.
Of 2015. That was a bloody winter for Pervomaysk.
–And then bang–and the roof is gone. We lived for the next two years without it. It was covered up only in December ’17.
This is Tatyana Leonidovna. She’s raising her grandson alone. She is his caretaker, because his mother, Tatyana’s daughter, died of lymphoma.
Larisa Ovcharenko has been disabled since childhood.
On February 7, 2015, at 3pm, a shell hit her house in Kalinovo, near Pervomaysk. Her sister was killed on the spot. Larisa was hit by shrapnel all over the body, and she lost the ability to walk–her knee-cap was shattered. She had a tube in her lungs for a long time. 3 months of hospitalization.
When we visited her, she was seriously embarrassed and tried to turn away. But let us take photos.
“There was no peace at night, we couldn’t fall asleep in the morning either, and it’s still noisy at 1pm. The peace was being shattered from the direction of Uglegorsk. Judging by last night’s events, we’ll have to put the kids to sleep in the corridors and bathrooms so that they won’t be injured by flying glass. Something exploded close enough to feel the vibration under the feet. It was far away, but very powerful.”
I read similar messages from my friends in Gorlovka, the main bleeding spot of the Donbass war, nearly every day. I feel shame in reading their posts, because they blend with the monotonous discussion of Savchenko’s visit to Moscow, Raikin, and whether Halloween ought to be celebrated. Pervomaysk is once again being hit by shells with increasing frequency, and not just around the outskirts.
Technical School 31 suffered a near miss recently, a couple of privately owned homes were damaged.
So I’m wondering–is the news blackout of the Donbass the result of deliberate action, or did people simply grow weary of it? Earlier I’d have given the latter answer. My readers told me a hundred times this is hard to read about. But Syria also should have exhausted itself as a story, and it hasn’t. People keep writing and discussing.
I really miss Lugansk and Pervomaysk.
This is a war without end. It became both the backdrop to and the sign of the era, in which various worlds coexist simultaneously, intersecting and then diverging. This is no longer merely an information or ideological war. This is also not a war in the conventional sense. But, dammit, it goes on.
We regularly receive appeals from the Lugansk Aid Center.
We run into cases about which one doesn’t even want to write.
These stories bring one down to earth and restore a sense of sobriety. A friend recently wrote that “yet for some people, the inability to buy a new iPhone is the height of suffering.”
So I am going to simply repost Zhenya’s story, please excuse me, but I don’t have the strength:
“There are stories where you don’t know where to begin. Wherever you turn, nothing but obstacles. This is one of them. There are six kids in the family. Tanya, born in 1995 (she’s a mom herself, her son is 3), Valera, 1996, Yura, 2000, Bogdan, 2007, Nastya, 2008, Sasha, 2012.
I remember like yesterday this closely-cropped woman with a big gap between her teeth.
We visited her together with Ruslan, our friend from Pervomaysk administration.
This is why she thought we were bringing the centralized humanitarian aid from the city, and was angry with me because she wanted to know when she’d receive construction materials.
And then she cried.
On August 9, 2014, the home of Natalya Petrovna Manchenko, was struck by four mortar bombs at exactly 6:30.
I haven’t cried like that in a year and a half.
It was a story that made everyone cry.
We drove up to the gate, and the old woman Lyuba came out and started to howl. She howled and cried, resting on her cane.
Her husband was blown to bits right before her eyes during August 2014. In front of that very same house where she was meeting us. He stood where we were standing now. Six shells came one after another.
And then her son called from Lvov and told her not to call anymore.
Do you know that strange feeling when everyone around you is discussing the national soccer team’s loss or some sick person being released from prison, and you don’t know what to say? Or another discussion concerning some killer or corrupt official? While you are like a stuck record. You become an irritating fly whom everyone had stopped reading a long time ago.
–Ah, is she the one who’s only talking about the old people on the Donbass?
Yes, the very same. I feel like a worn-out record and I don’t know how to write.
I see that the number of visits to posts about the Donbass is lower than ever.
Even photos of eggplants are more popular. I have detailed statistics…
Donbass has totally vanished from the news, blogs, internet, and every place else.
It’s not because people are tired and fed up–that happened over a year ago.
They simply got used to it. They got used to it and it became part of contemporary world. Like the hungry children in Africa, Afghanistan, or terrorism in the Middle East…
But here I go again…
For example, how should I write about this woman? She’s pleasant, giggly. As we were leaving, she was trying to feed us even though we just brought her aid…
Her name is Tatyana Vasilyevna, and she has a funny last name of Sladkaya [Sweet].
On the photo she’s shown in her Pervomaysk home which suffered two direct hits.
After the first one, on June 27, 2014, her shed vanished. Tatyana Vasilyevna barely made it to the bomb shelter. The main entrance was destroyed, all the windows shattered.