June 9, 2015
Lugansk and War [Originally posted on December 24, 2014]
By Yevdokia “Dunya” Sheremetyeva (little_hirosima)
Translated from Russian by J.Hawk
[To view Yevdokia Sheremetyeva’s other dispatches from the Donbass, click on the “littlehiroshima” tab above the title.]
I thought for a long time about what words to choose.
How to describe what I saw, felt.
They write me–you are looking at everything through the prism of emotions, therefore you are not objective.
I’ll answer: one must go there, and not look at it through the prism of emotions. No matter what the point of view is–they are always subjective. Because there simply is no such thing as objectivity. Especially at war.
There are only people who look.
Then there are also the non-people. Who have no emotions, only a mass of instincts.
Therefore anyone who writes me that I am exaggerating and that I am overly emotional should go there themselves. Live there for at least a day, talk to the first people you meet, walk down the cratered streets. Give out candy to children who are left without a home, Santa, or father. Look at their mothers’ faces.
And then write about it objectively. I’ll be happy to read it.
The word “war” for me was always a distant one. I don’t want to say I didn’t understand what it meant. But now I know that it was only an abstract concept in my head.
Naturally I worried about the Serbs when they were bombed. Naturally I hurt after watching the videos, seeing the photos.
But the word w-a-r was in my mind mainly associated with the Great Patriotic.
Stories by my grandmas, relatives, and of course the books. I’ll never forget the impression made by me by Maresyev [a Soviet fighter pilot who, after losing both legs in the process of being shot down behind German lines in 1942, crawled back across the front line and returned to flying fighters, as documented in a book by Boris Polevoy]. I’ve read the story in one sitting, without a break. My mom found me at 4am in the kitchen with a flashlight. I couldn’t tear myself away. But you read, and then you went on living.
But now I just can’t simply go on living. Because the war is not somewhere far away in Africa. It’s here.
The war and the city.
The city feels entirely different.
You can feel it in the air when you arrive.
It’s not just because it’s full of soldiers.
And you see tanks at gas stations, and young men with assault rifles at bus stops.
It’s not even that the city is scarred.
As if in an Apocalypse, people with shopping bags are walking by shattered houses, holed stores, and ruined kindergartens. Women with baby strollers are walking next to the ruins.
The difference is in the people themselves. And the impressions. There is something in the air that one can’t quite put one’s finger on, but which makes you realize–this is War. And no explanations are needed.
Everyone is constantly aware of what is happening.
War is not combat operations or shell-damaged roads.
War is people. People, simple people, living in hell.
It’s not the abstract information in the news “so-and-so many were killed, so-and-so many were taken prisoner, and so many were wounded.”
We hear these phrases so often that they remain somewhere far away. Simple formalities behind which we hide to avoid learning the truth. So that it would not cut and slice us.
War is the story of every human being here. Every last human being. But you can’t listen to every story. The heart breaks into a thousand pieces.
Can it be glued back together?
They are fixing and restoring the city within the limits of their ability.
Zhenya is pointing out various buildings in the city. Some were already rebuilt, others are still full of holes.
–See? That store was hit from the air. I saw it myself. I was on the roof then, it was the only way to get a connection. And I saw from where and in what direction they were shooting. Then I read in the internet it was an air-conditioner explosion. Understand, Dunya? I saw it myself! But then they are trying to prove to me that it’s not all obvious or clear, you are being emotional, you are not a specialist.
Zhenya doesn’t have work anymore, his adult daughter lives with her family and child in Kiev. And he distributes humanitarian aid. Through his own efforts, using his own money, to places where there’s fighting. It was he who went to Pervomaysk and saw the catastrophe of a city that’s under siege for already half a year. He goes everywhere with his wife.
–Zhenya, why together? It’s dangerous…
–If we are to die, then together.
They are inseparable. They met us together on the border, at night.
–We are one whole.
–You know, Dunya, you instantly realize who is who. Wheat separates from chaff. Some people, whom I’ve seen once or twice, turned out to be real friends. Friends with a capital F.
You listen to Zhenya and you realize that we are also surrounded by thousands of people. We think they are out friends. We see them every day. But we can’t know which of them, and when, will stab us in the back. Who will abandon you, who will help you, even if you have differences in opinion.
–I had an acquaintance. Borrowed money from me. Joined the National Guard. Called here and says “Just wait, I’m coming to return my debt. With a rifle.”
I sit, and I’m mentally counting which of my friends would give me up, who would find a rationalization for their lowness. I think, I think, and I don’t believe.
–Zhenya, it can’t be! But you were friends! How can this be!
–That’s not even the worst of it.
Oh God, how I want to say that it’s not obvious, it’s emotions, its subjectivity.
–At least we don’t have problems with communications. When Lugansk was being bombed, I could sometimes catch a connection on the roof. I did it at my work risk. And I saw how houses were burning, how shells landed in my neighbors’ gardens. And you know what? There were several spots in the city where you could get a connection. People congregated there. And you know what? That’s where Ukrainians sent their shells.
–It can’t be, Zhenya! It must have been by accident!
He laughs. –Of course it can’t be. Of course it’s accidental. What’s more, we were shelling ourselves. With precision. Or maybe not. It’s the air conditioners, I tell you. I’m not a specialist. I can’t judge. Please understand–they were killing us like flies. At first both sides. Then only the Ukrainians. We counted together with the neighbors. Fifteen neighbors within 500m of mine were struck, some in the garden, some in the gate, some in the house. Two killed, three wounded. And that’s within 500-600m. We know where it came from. It was methodical, like clockwork. Every day. Against important objects, infrastructure. More than 80% of substations were destroyed. Gas distribution stations were shelled, water pumping stations. All according to plan. Every day.
Zhenya is talking and I hear only the echoes of his words.
–And, you know, when there were to communications at all, we sent notes. Sent them using buses. You know, these guys deserve a monument. The bus drivers. They drove even to the worst hot spots. Grads are falling in the city, and they are driving people to the shelters. Didn’t accept money. Do you understand? They all deserve medals for bravery.
Dear Lord, how can one listen to all that? Heart is crumbling into tiny pieces.
–Let’s go to my shelter, I’ll show. We lived here during shelling.
Big, wide cellar. Zhenya designed his own house. Big and spacious. With a beautiful garden. And now its windows are covered with tape. Clear tape, which I didn’t notice at first. To keep the windows from splintering. The house is almost intact.
I listen, and I understand–yes, this is probably just one side of reality. Emotions.
There are also other fragments. There is another truth. Of course there is. How could it be otherwise?
Come to the Donbass, share the truth. Even if it is a different truth, as long as it’s not from someone else’s words. Only yours.