I will arrive in Pervomaysk and you know what? The first thing I’ll do is drive down the Makushkin Street, away from the central square with the Lenin. I’ll be driving between the poplars arrayed along the road as if they were soldiers. They will stand and greet me. Poplars. Then I will turn into a tiny lane. There will be swans carved from tires, and flowers from plastic bottles. I will come to a tiny home, ascend the stairs to the second floor. Along the way everything will be strewn with five-liter bottles filled with water. Then I will hear rumbling and–it’s Lyova, our grasshopper, who opens the door and is dumbstruck:
And I will be interrogating our Lyova–what should we buy, what to bring? Why is his leg hurting? What about arm joints? Is he cold? Is there clothing? What about the passport? Lyova, I haven’t seen you for a hundred years, my dear!
And Lyova, getting up on his one leg, will throw off the crutches and exclaim boldly: “look, I can still do this!” And turn around on his one leg. I have seen this many times and it seems he really likes to shock me like that.
I will be in awe, and why not? Lyova lost a leg back in ’14 after a shelling. He’s been hopping along on one leg since then. He uses crutches, but can make do without.
So I’ll be bugging Lyova, and he, I guarantee it, he’ll ask for another book. About physics and the secrets of the Universe.

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The cargo has arrived!

Do you remember how I wrote in April about a truck full of humanitarian aid for the Donbass and a pile of diapers?
Adult diapers which were donated by the wonderful Inessa from Moscow. In that post, I am on a photo with scotch tape and a marker used to package the cargo.
After overcoming a range of delays and problems, the diapers are in LPR!
Zhenya delivered them where they are needed most.
The Kalinovo hospice.
Where is that?
Kalinovo is a town near Pervomaysk.
Fighting never stopped there. Artillery bombardments are a given for people who live there.
But just looks at the faces of the hospice workers)))

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Kalinovka Hospice

One year ago I made the hard decision not to visit hospices. After the New Year’s marathon, where I visited several hospices dressed as the Snow Maiden and with a broad smile on my face in order to give the dying the New Year’s greetings, I fell ill. Upon returning to Moscow I crawled into bed, I was shaking, experienced panic attacks, dizziness, and I started to see a psychologist. I still do. I developed cancer-phobia which is still making itself felt but it’s not as bad as it used to be. In part because I have not been to such institutions. I can’t.
I thought for six months I was about to die. I thought I had thousands of incurable illnesses. Kept looking for them, and lapsed into hypochondria with every health problem.
So, what’s all this about?
Helping hospices is a big part of our aid work. I don’t know how our Lena can find the strength this requires. Lilya was dying in a hospice, and Lena was constantly with her. Many of the people we were helping were there, and Lena sat with them, brought them food, stayed with them until the end. Food and medications are important, but don’t compare to Lena’s moral help. But I broke, and my post about it last year was indeed titled “Broken”. I don’t know if I’ve put myself together since. But I live on, smile, travel, while our aid continues full steam. But I still shudder when I remember the young man with a barely visible beard who was dying of cancer. I’m still horrified by the memory of Nina, whom we brought presents and who died two days later. Liliya, Inna, our Ira, and others.
I don’t know whence the hospice workers’ willpower. I don’t know, I don’t understand, and I simply tip my hat to them in respect as people who are always there.
We try to help them regularly. With cleaning supplies, diapers, detergents. These are seemingly little things, but the fact is that’s simply what’s not available. They get only minimal supplies, and suffer from catastrophic shortages. The worst situation is in the Kalinovka hospice, a town in the line of fire. Last year, when we came to visit, a shall struck two days after we left breaking windows. Nobody was injured. Shells there are a normal thing. There is no bomb shelter, but the workers laugh off such questions. Ordinary life with shells, dying elderly, and diapers in short supply.


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A present for Lev

Do you remember Lev?
Yes yes, that very same physics-technology graduate who lives in Pervomaysk, LPR, with a Soviet passport?
Who lost a leg in 2014 due to artillery bombardment?
Well, we visited Lev in March.
And we brought a present. Not just any present, but the kind of present someone who is studying the mathematical definition of the universe really needs.

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Pervomaysk in March

In late March Pervomaysk was buried by snow, together with the rest of LPR.
So much so that vehicles found going difficult.
I love to photograph the city, its people. It’s daily life, but I never have time for that.
So I bring fewer and fewer photos from each next trip. And this time I brought very few ones.
But I will publish what I have.
For remembrance’s sake.
I love this city, which became like a home to me.
A small city, with a complex fate.
A Hero City.

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The Other Side of War

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.

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Another Life

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.

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Friedman’s Metric

This is a story about a very unusual person.
I should probably start by saying that on August 4, 2014, Lev went to get water and in the process lost a leg to yet another round of shelling of Pervomaysk. But that’s how I start nearly every story about someone wounded or injured. So perhaps instead I should start by saying that he still lives with his Soviet passport, and as a matter of principle refused to exchange it for Ukrainian documents because he considers himself a Soviet man. But even that’s not as important, even though it made it hard for him to obtain pension and benefits.
–Lev, tell me, what kind of aid do you need?
–I’d like books about theoretical physics. I would really like to read about Friedman’s metric.
–He was pursuing a mathematical description of the Universe.
That’s Lev in a nutshell. We’ve known him for a year, and only a year later I felt ready to write about him. Even though there hasn’t been a visit during which we wouldn’t be his guests in Pervomaysk.

This photo was taken in autumn ’17. We visited Lev and found him hopping on one leg next to his house, collecting firewood. He stokes a stove  which has covered the whole kitchen with soot. There is a pleasant smell of smoke and firewood all over the house. You know, it’s such a refined smell, when firewood and not coal or gas is used. He lives alone, has no relatives. There was a brother, but far, far away. It seems he died, and his relatives are in Ukraine somewhere. No wife or children.
He doesn’t have a job, and what kind of a job could he, a one-legged retiree, find in wartime Pervomaysk?
He only recently managed to get his pension awarded, but when we first met him he still wasn’t receiving it. He lived thanks to neighbors’ help.
The neighbors love him even though they seem to view him a village idiot.
–Our Lyova doesn’t drink! He’s awesome, he hops on one leg!!!
And Lyova, indeed, is like a rabbit on crutches. It’s hard to believe he’s been retired for years.

After we got acquainted a year ago, I told Zhenya back in Lugansk about him for two hours straight. Zhenya didn’t go with us. I told him that there’s this guy there. Single, very strange, very smart. Not of this world, that’s for sure.
The whole house was full of books, no electricity, firewood only. There is a lamp with wires going to the neighbors’, for which we are very grateful.
Sometime ago he graduated from the Dolgoprudy MFTI. Which is one of the best.
Lyova lost his leg to Ukrainian shells. He didn’t get a Ukrainian passport because he refused to recognize that state. But after getting this kind of treatment from them, he smiles and talks about physics.

Zhenya, having heard my extolling him, made a pragmatic proposal:
–Say, let’s put him in our retirement home, with Seryozha Kutsenko!
Kutsenko also has no leg but is not as independent, even though he’s younger than Lev. Seryozha has polyarthritis and joint problems. And it’s impossible to imagine Lev in a home. He even danced for us somehow on his one leg, after throwing the crutches off to the side. So this was my only reply to Zhenya:
–It would kill him.
Lev hops on crutches from yard to yard, collects firewood in his backpack, and thus heats his home. Carries water in bottles, drinks tea, and reads books. And spends all his time thinking about how the Universe is organized.
We talk to him about food, electricity, and debts, and he doesn’t understand us. He talks about math and cosmology. About the purpose of life, the purpose of the Universe.
–I could use more books…

This photo was made during the summer. Our Lev is an athlete!!!

There’s war all around, people struggle to survive, and in the middle of that, there is the odd Lev with a Soviet passport in besieged Pervomaysk. Who had a leg torn off, and who lives in his book- and physics-filled life and hops like a paraolympian in a light quilted jacket in spite of the frost.
And I also think all the time about how the Universe is organized.
How good it is there are people in it like Lev.

Dear friends, we weren’t able to find Friedman’s metric. We found several articles, printed them, and will soon bring them to Lev.
But if you have anything about the question of mathematical description of the Universe or something new in theoretical physics, we’d be happy to bring it along.
Our humanitarian aid. Thanks to all who have pitched in!

If you want to join the aid effort for the people of the Donbass, please write me in person through LiveJournal, facebookV Kontakte, or email: Paypal address:

Helping Ours

–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.

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They are killing us

Every couple of months I succumb and begin to howl like a wounded beast. I curse my hapless newsfeed with its cats and palm trees. I wring my hands and whine nobody cares about the war. After that I usually get comments from people who do care, reassuring me they remember and worry. Some write that it’s impossible to live in stress for three years on end, one has to rest too. And that I don’t have the right to demand constant compassion and concern. And what can one do anyway?
I write this every time knowing that I do this mostly for myself. Due to the sense of hopelessness-what can one do but write when you see it with your own eyes?
What can I do? A month ago I was frantically calling on people not to remain silent, but to write and speak out.
But nothing happened, which I find the most maddening.
I’m mad that I personally can’t do anything about it. I’m mad about my own powerlessness, outside of my writing.
And nothing is happening.
When I was 12, I remember how I sat in a room with headphones on, and suddenly stopped breathing due to all the injustice around me. I was stunned by the imperfection of this world, so much so that I didn’t even cry. I stopped breathing and lay still. Then I thought that one could give one’s life, like a gift, in order to save others. It was a typical moment of youthful self-realization that everyone experiences. The naive thought that you can change something with your life or death.
In December, we went to the Donbass with another batch of aid.
Just a week before our visit Inna’s house, practically in the center of Pervomaysk, was hit by a shell.
It was December 13, 2017, 1:30am.
She and two children were sleeping in an adjoining room when the shell struck.
Both the kitchen and bathroom were destroyed.


Look at the photos she gave me.

By irony of fate, she was not on the Donbass in 2014, the hardest year for the Donbass.
She and the kids left to escape the bombing. When the city was being killed by all kinds of artillery and aircraft.

Having waited out the worst, she returned home when shells nearly stopped.
And…woke up at night due to an “incoming.”

In less than a week, the house was fixed up. Communal services now react instantly. They are on the scene on the same day. But they can’t restore the internal finish, or replace the furniture or, most importantly, replace that which the people lost when the shell struck. That will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
The fear, when you wake up at night and don’t know whether your relatives are alive. Whether you are alive.
When everything around is roaring and crumbling.

Just try to imagine. In detail.
This can happen to hundreds or thousands over there, on the Donbass.
With people who have become hostages.
But no, we are not at war.
How can one justify that?
What kind of piece of human garbage must one be to believe that children and elderly deserve having to sit in bomb shelters?

They are killing people, it’s as simply as that, for nothing. People like us. Not any “citizens of another country.”
It’s us.
They are killing us.
I’m not 12.
I’m 33, and I know that nobody’s death will change anything. But my breathing stops just as it did then.
May it be that way.
It’s good.
It’s right.
Because that’s life, and without it I’d be dead.