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.
Granny Tanya turned 95 so we paid her a visit.
Well, not “we”, of course, but our friends Lena and Zhenya. I’m in Moscow. And they are over there. In Lugansk.
In LPR. On the Donbass. In the middle of war.
Also in the middle of that war lives a single old lady who turned 95 who had nobody to bring her birthday wishes.
–Nobody’s given me flowers in 50 years…
You didn’t forget to take a day off work to come to my book presentation at VDNKh, did you?
I wanted to write a happy post before the event.
Thanks to you we were able to prepare 50 Donbass kids for school!!!
50 kids received notebooks, pens, rulers, paints, and much else. They are from families for whom this is an unaffordable luxury. They are not simply Donbass kids who lived through war and continue to live there. They are from families with many kids, disabled, adopted. Families who lost homes, single mothers. Kids who really need this help. And every time we do this, we end up with very happy posts. Because children are the future. Children are life.
There are great many single grandmothers on the Donbass. One doesn’t want to moralize here, you can do that without me. But it’s a fact–there are many women with children, including with multiple children, abandoned by husbands. And yes, unfortunately, many of these “dads” vanished right in 2014 during the fighting. Of course, these men have their own “truth” which, to be honest, I’m not interested in. They left to get work and then bring family along, but vanished along the way. Or there were disagreements, or he fell in love with someone else.
But there’s also a separate category of women who raise women on their own–grandmothers. Usually they are the parents of fathers or mothers who were raising their own kids, but left this world. So these grandmothers, many of whom are disabled, are left raising their grandchildren. Many of them can’t work anymore, but the kids have to be fed and clothed. That’s how it is.
There are many like that among the people we care for. There’s nobody else to help them. And it’s sad when you see elderly people with very young kids.
You are looking at a lovely doctor from the city hospital’s Therapy Department. Our Yura, who often himself helps others, was treated there. He’s under our care too, as he’s a father of 7 kids (!), you sometimes see him mentioned in comprehensive aid reports. During the fighting he left for Russia and tried to become a citizen. But…It was difficult with so many kids, even though he quickly found work. So he had to return home to his house in Lugansk.
Then Yura started having blood pressure problems, breathing problems, and was admitted to the hospital. Once there, Zhenya noticed that the nurses had to run to get a blood pressure monitor from a different floor. He started talking to the doctors and nurses and it turned out that they have one such instrument for three departments, the lab is closed, and they forgot when they last saw test strips.
Zhenya: “What’s interesting is that people were not complaining about low wages or personal inconvenience, they were worried that they had one blood pressure gauge for three departments, the others were broken, and they were not slated to get a new one for another year. They were concerned that people were being brought on emergency visits and the lab was closed so they couldn’t measure blood sugar…”
We could not ignore this. We brought two gauges, a glucose meter, and test stripes.
Taisiya Ivanovna is once again in hospital.
She was taken there right from the neuro-pathologist’s office, where she was on a routine visit after the stroke. Her right side started to go numb. So she was taken straight from the office to the hospital ward in the midst of an episode. More medications, more tests.
She’ll be there for two weeks, then the doctors will decide. Our Zhenya persuaded the doctor who saved him and Lena in 2016 to look to Taisiya. You remember, I wrote back then the two of them found themselves at the hospital practically at the same time.
We started to help Taisiya and her grandson only recently. Sasha’s mom and Taisiya’s daughter died from a shell fragment which cut open her belly right in front of the boy. She was hit in 2014, but she suffered for two more years with mangled stomach and intestines which the surgeons had to put back together in primitive conditions at the hospital with no electricity.
It’s still summer, but the fall will be upon us soon, which means not only yellow leaves but also school. Which in turn means notebooks, pens, backpacks, and all kids of other stuff kids need. And yes, kids in LPR/DPR also go to school, attend after-school clubs, and they need all that very badly. Maybe even more than our kids.
All of that costs a lot. For many Donbass people, late August and the fall are a difficult time of the year. Because the average monthly salary is 5,000 rubles. Sometimes all these school supplies are an unaffordable luxury. It’s a luxury to buy pen holders and book sleeves…
Have you calculated how much it costs to prepare one school child for September 1?
These children are not simply children. They are children of war. They live in a different reality and for many of them colorful markers, pretty erasers are a source of joy so great that it’s hard to believe in our reality with prosciutto and i-Phones.
So Lena and Zhenya carried out “Operation Y” [a reference to a famous Soviet-era film] to collect school supplies for the people we care for. But unfortunately we were not able to collect enough for all. Especially for those families for whom we are making separate collections and the particularly needy ones–you know them all well.
We really want to help both. Last year we and you were able to collect many school kids for children whose parents are on the registry at the Lugansk Aid Center. These are foster kids, families with many children, single moms, disabled kids.
We want to help as many kids as possible!!!
So I’m calling on you to join in this effort!))) Come on board!
If you do, please label your contributions “school”.
And you must see the photo report on what we’ve bought so far.
Just look at how improbably happy they are!!!
Lena and her parents and kids went shopping and picked out everything. So the boys and girls got to pick the color of their notebooks, backpacks, pencils, paper, everything they needed.
Lenochka, you and Zhenya are totally awesome!!! It’s so good to have you with us! Thank you!
This is Vika and Alyona. It’s so unexpected to see them together on the same photo, after all they’ve never seen one another.