Our Lives’ Backdrop

I was sorting through the photos from our March visit to Lugansk and found this one.
That’s how the three kids of Ira and Petya were seeing us off. They are from Pervomaysk, or rather from a small village nearby that’s under UAF control.
It was snowing, and the boys were glued to the window and kept waving to us while we were trying to start the car. We looked at each other to the last.
Now it’s hot summer, Moscow and other big cities are up to their ears in the World Cup carnival.

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In spite of our frequent trips to the war zone, we are not in contact with any fighters. We usually work with “civilians”, administration services, social services, etc. Although, if LPR becomes Ukraine and the reunification our liberals want takes place, all of these civilian workers will be lumped together with the militiamen and charged with “separatism” and “treason.” Whether you just helped the elderly or sat in the trenches, you aided terrorists.
But we do have friends among the militia. I briefly mentioned one of them, a fellow student from MGU, wounded near Debaltsevo.
There is also Kolya. We met in Chernukhino in the spring of ’15. Zhenya invited Kolya to be our escort. I wanted to write about him then, but it didn’t happen.

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My accidents

My father always said one should write right away. When the impressions are fresh, when it still hurts, and when it’s still with you.
That’s the truth.
There is much that I haven’t written down. Even for myself, even when I had the strength.
For example, I did not write about accidents.
It would seem they are trivial. But I didn’t write because of my mother. We carefully tried to conceal from her what happened. There were hints, there were euphemisms, but never a direct description.

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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.

On the Front Line

–What is your name?
–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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