Meanwhile in LPR…

I have visited the Donbass so many times already that all the years are running together. But this trip stands out for several reasons. Including bicycles and empty bus stops.
There are many cyclists on the roads. Big groups, small groups, with backpacks, without–there are really many of them. Several times more than ever before.
There is also far less Republic symbolism along the roads. There was a time, particularly during the summer of 2015, when all the bus stops were repainted. One could see pathos-laden “Donbass, don’t be sad. We’ll break through”, “Donbass, hang on” slogans everywhere. I couldn’t keep up photographing them. But now they are almost all gone.

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Winter Lugansk

Do you think it’s a pile of ruins with survivors wandering about?
The city has long returned to normal life. It is teeming with life, with holiday decorations everywhere and vitality emanating from every corner.
It so happens that every time I visit, I see the city only from the car window.
I never manage to visit local museums or theaters.
Though I really want to!

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Lugansk Meteor Shower

–Young lady, where are you going? Quickly, in the car!
–Guuuuys, I can’t!
I run up to the booth with the border guards. They are waving their hands.
–Young lady, can’t you see there is nobody on the street?! Can’t you hear?
I try to listen, but I have only one thought on my mind. Or rather a calling.
–Guys, I have no control over any of this.

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Hello LPR!

Lugansk always greets you in a new way.
Either with a bombed-out road at night, or multi-kilometer waiting lines at the customs.
This time it met us with a calm haze and a stunning sunset, which provided a backdrop for the harvesters.
And yet even during the summer of 2014, when shells were exploding, the harvest was also brought in. But for some reason this time this sight made it possible to relax.
Big machines, smoothly doing their job. No matter what.


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“Stirlitz was never this close to failure”

–Heads or tails?
The Gukovo customs came up three times. Izvarino not even once.
–Let’s risk it.
The customs guy looks at the packed to the gills car and thunders:
–Unload everything.
–Whaddayamean, everything? The car is full!
–Everything means everything, lady.
My hands start to shake, and the asphalt around the car is gradually covered with aid packets.

 

But half of the car is full of liquid food items for the ill who can’t eat solid foods.
–Got a packing list?
–Are you serious?!?!?!
Incidentally, nearly all of the boxes of bottles are at the bottom, covered with baby bodysuits and caps. There is a lot of it. The car us groaning under the weight.
Lena Filippova sent the food for the bedridden ill. The expiration date is in September, therefore they took a chance on getting it across the border. Izvarino almost never inspected us closely. We were always lucky. But the waiting time there is now several hours, due to the long line of vehicles awaiting clearance.
So now all the car’s contents are on the asphalt, and all the corners have been checked using metal detectors. The customs and border guard officials are walking around all the junk, poking it with their fingers.
–What’s this? Unpack it. And this?
The customs officer takes out a rubber doll and a child’s sweater, uncovering 10 bottles underneath. I pre-empt him:
–Each of these bottles costs 450 rubles! And in LPR they are even more expensive, and people don’t have money for them.
–So maybe they should buy something else?
Here I get angry:
–They can’t buy something else.
Nearly all this food is for the girl Vika for whom it’s a matter of life and death. Each bottle represents a meal. She can’t eat anything else. The family doesn’t have the money. My voice cracking, I look for the package with feeding probes and syringes to show him what I’m talking about. A wheelchair is right next to it. The customs officer acquiesces.
–Fine. What’s this? Also food?
–Well, yes?
–Are you carrying medicines, painkillers, and prescription drugs?
–Of course not!
My voice did not waver–just before our visit, both Zhenya and I had a range of illnesses. Being very conscientious and having faith in the miracle-working power of modern medicine, we accidentally took them along by the bag. Just in case. You never know what might happen in a warzone. And if you don’t need it, someone else might. Right?
The medicines were also at the bottom, under diapers and clothes.
The customs officer approached each of the packets while my heart kept descending into my stomach.
–What’s this–shirts?
–Uh, yes…
About a year ago Lera, a girl we know, donated a pile of new shirts and pants. Still in factory packaging. It was impossible to take them across in a single trip. We’ve taking a few on every trip since then. They have almost become a symbol of our visits.
Zhenya suspects they multiply by cell division in his garage, since they don’t seem to be disappearing.

–Why so many of them?
The shirts were pressed into food parcels. They were coming out of all nooks and crannies, and they looked even more dubious next to the bottles.
–If you want, we can leave them with you.
–Fine, you can go.
The rest of the stuff was not inspected.
I don’t know whether we were saved by the shirts or the heads three times in a row, but Stirlitz was never this close to a failure.

Dear Donbass, we are back.

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Off to war

–Grads are firing.
We are racing down the road to Lugansk. It’s night. I am in Rostislav’s car–he’s a militiaman from Pervomaysk commandant’s office, who met us at the border. It’s impossible to pass without the right documents.
There’s night-time curfew.
The rest of the crew is following in a vehicle loaded up with humanitarian aid.
Rostislav is pressing the pedal to the metal. No emotions on his face.
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