On the Front Line

–What is your name?
–Zhenya.
–Where are you from?
–From Sverdlovsk. Nearly all of us are from there.
Zhenya is so young, tanned, and cute, that one wants to hug him. In a motherly fashion, with no ulterior motives. And it’s so wistful, so sad, when one realizes where he is.
I don’t know what they call the line of contact in other hot spots, but on the Donbass they say “the front”. It’s the very edge. You look over, and 800m away is “their” checkpoint. “Ukie” one, as they say.


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The Sea of Pervomaysk

-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.

Pervomaysk Lenin

There is a monument to Lenin at the Pervomaysk main square. Such monuments are scattered throughout the post-Soviet space. An ordinary Lenin–hands in coat pockets, gaze directed into the distance. In 2014, the inhabitants of this tiny, and now frontline, city, started to bring shells here. Shells launched by Ukrainian military and national guard at the city. In December of that year, when I arrived there for the first time, a Ukrainian flag was also lay crumpled there. In the mud, under a pile of rusty pipes, shell fragments.
The number of shells increased with every visit. The collection included cluster bomb cassettes, Grad and Uragan rockets, howitzer shells. Then they stopped bringing them. There were so many, it made no sense. The flag vanished under the mound of iron. Then it was taken away, it disappeared.
And then the pile of shells was gradually taken apart. Visitors wanted to take something small with them. Some of the shells, mostly the big ones, found their way into the Pervomaysk museum.
The pile grew visibly smaller.
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History Museum

This bomb fragment was found in the Krupskaya Park in Pervomaysk.
You like going to museums? I don’t, and perhaps I visited the local history museum only after two years of constant visits to this city.
You won’t notice the bomb immediately–it’s off in the corner, and its huge.
The other exhibits take up half the room. For example, Smerch rockets.
Once upon a time Grad and Smerch were mere words. Now I can even tell them apart. Local kids can distinguish not only by appearance, but by sound and range–tanks, howitzers, mortars, etc. They would correct me when I tried to guess who was shooting.

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“We’re in a tank”

–They were really shelling hard today. Many buildings suffered.
–Harder than usual?
–Yes. The dogs.
–Anyone died?
–No, but the city center was hit. We’re in a tank.
–???
–We can hear incoming again. We’re in a tank. They are landing somewhere. I put headphones on my son and we’re in a tank. It’s a game we play now.

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Silence

All manner of things happen in the world. Everything that happens, happens in a cycle.
We’ve been in shock for the last three days. It really got to us.
I often think I’ve seen the bottom. The bottom to which a human being can fall. But no.
There is no bottom. There is only the disgusting abyss into which he falls.
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“Political Officer”

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.

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What do the eyes say?

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.
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