February 6, 2015
Translated from French by Tom Winter
Report of Simon Valmary on January 29, 2015
At Enakievo, in the separatist east of Ukraine, everyone is looking forward to the fall of the neighboring town of Debaltsevo: the combatants – to carry off a strategic victory over the forces of Kiev, the civilians – so the bombardments will stop raining down.
The separatist combatants confirm it: the Ukrainian troops are completely surrounded at Debaltsevo.
“We closed it (the pocket around the town) last night (Tuesday-Wednesday)” – asserted the commandant of a checkpoint at the entryway to the town. “The Ukrainians are trying to break through to their soldiers inside, they are attacking with artillery and infantry, but we are defending ourselves,” he explains.
According to him, 8,000 soldiers are encircled, and 8,000-11000 are trying to break the encirclement into the interior. These data are impossible to verify and the constant artillery interdicts access to this strategic town midway between the secessionist bastions of Donetsk and Lugansk.
But for the rebels at Enakievo, the fall of Debaltsevo, about 20 kilometers away, is a question of days.
“Our troops are making good progress,” – is the assessment of a combatant on patrol in a residential neighborhood four kilometers as the crow – or the rocket – flies from the front side.
“I hope this will get over with soon. And that all the Ukrainians under siege will get killed,” he said.
“We’ve got to advance, and destroy them; I don’t want to leave them alive: they are constantly firing on the people, not on the ‘terrorists-separatists’ as they say. They are killing the children, and the old people.”
Artillery fire rains around him and his two companions. A few seconds later, a column of smoke rises from a cement apartment building.
Life in a basement
A few silhouettes hurry their steps between buildings, a rare sign of life in a region that has lost half its population. Under the shelter of a porch, some teenagers are talking. “The bombardment has been going on since August, but is worse since Christmas (Russian Orthodox January 7) because of the siege of Debaltsevo, he explains.
The young man of 21 invites us inside, but he doesn’t go upstairs to the apartments. Instead, he slips down a hole, steps over some pipes, and gets to a large, dark, damp basement. There are about 15 people here, mostly women and children.
“We barely get out,” says Raisa, 71. “Today we wanted to go out and eat, but the firing started again and we popped right back in. I’m cold, I’m hungry, and I’m here, in this basement.”
At her side Zinaida, 81, sobs, “I worked for 40 years, and now, they pay nothing,”
The light goes out. An old man gropes about to light a kerosene lamp.
“We need Poroshenko (Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine) to see what we are seeing,” says Raisa. “Poroshenko doesn’t give a — , “ replies a female voice, and she follows up with a stream of epithets about the leaders at Kiev.
Enakievo is the home town of Viktor Yanukovich, the pro-russian president deposed last year after pro-western protests, repressed in blood.
But way past support for the home town boy, the fighting and the bombardments, incessant since August, have fed the hatred of these people feel towards Kiev.
In a corner, Lyudmila, with sunken eyes. Cradles her 17-month-old baby boy Zakhar soothing from the sound of heavy detonations.
“I’m really anxious for Debaltsevo to fall. At least, the blasts will be farther away, she says. “We can’t take this war any more.”