I began helping the Donbass in 2014, when I and my friends, thanks to you, my readers and online contacts, brought lots of food to Pervomaysk in a big truck. In 2014, the city was in a catastrophic condition, and it literally suffered from hunger. It was cut off from the rest of LPR and found itself in a humanitarian blockade, where even OSCE wouldn’t go. People lived in cellars and bomb shelters, shops were closed, and there was nothing to eat. Only communal cafeterias worked, which fed people for free. We kept returning until the summer of ’15, about once every three weeks, with food for these cafeterias. Then the situation improved, the cafeterias were closed, so we stopped our visits. Although in my view such cafeterias are still needed nearly everywhere in the LPR. For the needy. There are many single elderly, multi-child families, and simply needy individuals who are trying to ends meet and suffer from poor nutrition.
But that’s not what this post is about.
It’s about how we started with delivering food for lots of people. I never imagined I’d become an aid coordinating center of sorts.
I couldn’t wrap my head around it even during our first visit in a car loaded with food and clothes. I felt this was a one-time action, but people continued to turn to me and that’s how it came to be. The Little Hirosima blog helped, even though I created it for something entirely different. With time, our aid became targeted–we help those who are in poor straits, who can’t cope on their own.
The first shocking thing I encountered on the Donbass in December of 2014 were the clean streets. I drove with my eyes wide open, trying to understand what was happening. Grannies were sweeping up the trash right next to bombed-out buildings. Sweepers with brooms marched down roads. Swings were being installed on playgrounds. “One of the neighbors did that”. Fighting at that time was intense, and people were trying to keep their cities in order. I never stopped being amazed by that–the cleaning was being done by public service workers and by ordinary citizens. A little thing, it would seem, but it really stood out given what else was happening.
I particularly like the decorations next to houses–swans from tires with hats from cans, bellflowers made from bottles.
Kalinovo is a long village.
It consists of several streets which stretch for 27km from Pervomaysk to Brianka in LPR.
It is considered part of Pervomaysk. It’s 270 years old, and right now it is on the front lines.
Days are quiet, at night there is fighting.
-How do you survive SUCH HEAT?
-We got to the pond.
-Isn’t it dangerous? I remember one of your men blew himself up on a tripwire mine.
-There are no tripwires on that pond.
When I first heard the word “pond,” I thought it’s the name of some lake or pool. But no, it turns out that’s what they refer to any pond. Nobody visited them during the summer of 2014. People either left or hid in cellars. Time has passed. Pervomaysk is not getting the same intense bombardments as before, naturally. Or, rather, the city itself is not being bombed at all. It hasn’t been hit for a long time. Only the outskirts–Kalinovo, Mikhailovka, Molodezhnoye. And there are crowds on the ponds.
There is an unusual monument in one of the unrecognized Donbass Republics. It stands right by the border with Ukraine, where shelling is frequent. It’s scary to go there by car–nothing but shell-damaged trees and craters in the asphalt. The monument is based on one of the most powerful photographs of the Great Patriotic War–“Battalion Commander”. But, as it turned out later, the photo does not show a battalion commander but rather a political officer. The young, handsome officer raises his TT, and the soldiers rise off the ground behind him. The photo was taken only a few seconds before the hero’s death, near Lugansk, in the village of Khoroshee which was the site of a hard-fought battle.
Do you know that Stakhanov, the famous shock-worker, established his record in the Lugansk Region, specifically in Pervomaysk?
In the very same Pervomaysk which is now on the demarcation line separating LPR and Ukraine.
Curiously, I’ve met many people, local inhabitants, who don’t know that.
Everyone knows that the town of Stakhanov is near Pervomaysk. It was called Kadiyevka until 1837, then it was renamed Sergo, in the 1970s it received the worker’s name, and in May 2016 Kiev returned to its original name as part of its “decommunization” campaign. LPR, obviously enough, did not acknowledge that renaming, but google and yandex maps all speak Poroshenko’s language.
The city itself bears no relation to Aleksey Stakhanov.
It was already completely dark. We were racing down the road from Pervomaysk when we heard strange sounds.
The tire was cut to shreds. I am afraid to come out, besides it’s cold already. I sit it out in the cabin while the guys with telephones install the spare. We’re alone on the road–it’s past curfew.
There was hail in Lugansk.
The sort of hail that is not written using a capital letter or quotation marks [a reference to the Grad, i.e. “Hail” 122mm artillery rockets used to bombard Novorossia’s cities].
The right sort of hail.
Which makes you run into the house and lock the door behind you with wet hands just in time.
There was thunder off in the distance. Prolonged and loud.
Today, at the market, we heard distant shell explosions. Nobody even turned their heads–everyone continued moving between the stalls.
Besides, why turn one head if it’s so far away? Buying food for the supper is more important.
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.
–These are all mine. 11 kids.
I froze and couldn’t resist asking a stupid question that was hanging on my tongue:
–And how many fathers?
Anticipating future questions, the woman fired back:–One. I gave birth to all of them, no twins.
Apparently I was not the first one to ask.