Our friend Natasha described Lyova as a “holy man. He prays for us all”. I don’t know what our Grasshopper believes, I didn’t ask. He’s a physician by education and avocation. He flies in the clouds, he lives and breathes numbers and formulas. But I’m absolutely certain it’s people like him who keep the world in balance–so I agree with Natasha. Not politicians, stars, and celebs. Everything depends on people like Lev. I know it, I’ve seen it, I feel it.
There is an amazing person in the tiny town of Pervomaysk, which is right in the line of fire in LPR. Most people around him treat him as slightly deranged. Or blessed. But you should have seen his bright eyes. Eyes, genuine eyes, full of life and earnestness. There is nothing ulterior in them, nothing that tears us from within.
–The grandson will come, I’ll give him the candy!
The nurse whispers:
–She doesn’t have anyone! They all died, the grandson died, but she keeps waiting.
Zhenya was in Kalinovo, LPR, with New Year presents not only for kids. There is also a hospice in that forgotten, grey zone place where the war still goes on. I was there two years ago. At the entrance there was a Grad rocket casing being used as an ashtray. A big iron pipe bearing death, for ashes. People smoke, laugh.
There are 37 patients now. Some of them have been there for a long time, I recognized some of their faces on photos…because they have nowhere else to go. They have no home, no relatives, can’t take care of themselves on their own. Otherwise it’s all new faces.
I remember well how two years ago, after such visits, our Moscow Zhenya had his blood pressure spike right in the car. And I, once back in Moscow, was struck down by panic attacks.
How are they doing? To be honest–it defies description.
No TV, no radio. Is there anything to do? Not really, other than staring at the ceiling. There are beds even in corridors, the place is packed. But it’s clean, and the staff there are genuine heroes.
But just imagine: the hospice is on the line of separation. There’s war there, that’s a given.
When I was there last time, a day before the visit a shell knocked out cafeteria windows. That’s a normal thing there. To the point that people only laugh when you ask about it.
Kalinovo is a town in the “gray zone”. Shelling there is the norm. Yes, even today, when everyone is enthusiastically writing about troop separation and “silence”. Kalinovo is right next to Pervomaysk, LPR.
On December 27 our team visited that town for the New Year tree celebration as Grandfather Frosts bearing presents for the kids. Alas, I was not there, but our friends photographed everything. For many children at the event life without war is pure fantasy. They’ve known no other. They don’t know it’s possible to go out at night, that there might not be a curfew. That there might not be shooting, and that one doesn’t have to be always ready to throw oneself on the ground. There is a whole generation which will go to school knowing nothing but war.
What else is there to write–alas, nothing has changed in those places since last year. The situation has not gotten better. As much shooting as before. People live like before. They are surviving. Everyone who could has left. Those who haven’t are not there by choice.
And yes, children live there too. They go to school, to extracurricular activities, theater circles. These kids are just like yours and mine. Merry, funny, sometimes serious. They believe in Grandfather Frost and Snow Maiden, they expect miracles like all other kids on Earth.
I can say one thing. The Kalinovo holidays are the most heartfelt of all we’ve visited. People are excited to get presents like nowhere else.
The holidays are organized by the inhabitants themselves. Grandfather Frosts, Snow Maidens, Baba Yagas, the costumes, the plot, the preparations, rehearsals. For their own kids. And I’m boundlessly glad that our team is making its own contribution to providing a bit of happiness for these kids.
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.
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)))
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.
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.
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.
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.