“The cohort of the dead of Donbass will never stop haunting Ukrainian memories”


In DONi PRESS, December 2, 2015

Translated from French by Tom Winter

It’s December 1. We drive at high speed towards the Donetsk front. We have set out on a long circuit on the immediate rear of the Spartak front line, skirting along the airport towards the south. In this devastated area hundreds of families are still living. 

Reduced to sheltering in basements, without electricity, water, or gas, they face the Ukrainians simply by their courage and their determination not to let up. If many are gone, there are those who are still refusing. They are there, families with children, they stubbornly continue to live in the hell of the front zone. No soldier resides in their midst, the fighters in the trenches are hundreds of meters away, sometimes two or three kilometers at most. Yet these people are always taken for targets by the Ukrainian army and they still die … and resist.

The bridge to the airport is still adorned with a monument welcoming the motorists who once used it. On the structure you can still read DONETSK, despite the damage from mortars, shrapnel and bullets. One soon reaches the first houses. At first impression everything seems calm and still. The wintry season is all but here, but its silence was misleading. We are promptly welcomed by bursts as the Ukrainians, so to speak, give us a welcome. 

The driver floors it. We go by, seeing a panorama around us of debris of all sorts; our driver has to swerve around the spent lengths of rocket, shells, a broken up metal railing or sometimes a block of masonry that has spurted there, heaven knows how.

All the trees around are gashed and splintered, the buildings are gutted, but the individual houses show a contrast: some by chance of fate have not been hit, others are ripped and have collapsed. Desolation reigns everywhere. We continue on foot, and just in sight of the airport, the streets are not so deserted, and people come out of the ruins. They often invite us to come on in, and see how they live. 

Among them, Svetlana and Volodia. Volodia’s folks built the house in the ’50s. It had been a solid house but is now mostly burned out, and they live in a glacial basement. A bed is still there on the first floor. They have a daughter, 13 or 14, and she still goes to school. Their living conditions are terrible; they get humanitarian help each month from Russian convoys and once in three months, help from the Red Cross.  Svetlana shows us the famous 500-gram two-rouble bread furnished by the authorities. Despite the shell holes and the destruction, they find the spirit to welcome us with a smile. 

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I leave four squares of chocolate, in the name of Xavier Moreau, who had left us some food at our premises.

In Tatiana’s case, the house took a direct hit. It had been built in 1969 by her in-laws. A ridiculous carpet tries to plug the huge gaping hole in the middle of the facade. Her presence here is incongruous: she has come to feed an abandoned dog … “I can not leave him, I found him here amidst all this and I can not bring myself to leave him, that’s beyond me. 

“I live with my 13 year old daughter, Anastasia, my husband was killed during a bombing. My job is gone: like a lot of people here we worked at the airport that is behind my garden. “She breaks into tears, asking why all this, why the killing, why the hatred, the inhabitants are all just regular folks, there’s no military here; the bombing is for the civilians, to kill them and spread Ukrainian terror.” 

We get going again, to get us opposite Airport Terminal 1. The area changes appearance, less populated, the houses are more up-scale — as are the destructions.

In spite of all the ruins, the essential difference is that here, they’ve still got gas, water and electricity. A substantive difference. Four houses in a row were destroyed in in a side street, the result of a Ukrainian bombing last Saturday. A shell had smashed a gas pipe, the fire started in one of the houses, then another. 

A grandmother explains that she has no one left, except her sister living in Ukraine. Having decided to take refuge back at home, she tells of the humiliations, the neighborhood treating them as ‘separatist’, the pair, two poor women practically 80: “I came back, it’s my home, I will not leave, I’m not interested in politics, the only thing I know: Peace, we need peace, we need the ones opposite to leave us alone, What is it? Are we destroying their houses and killing their children in the west? “.

Further on there’s another woman, she hailed us from far off, wondering what we’re doing here, then leads us into her half bombed out house: “look at the gifts they send us on the nose! “The woman said ironically, handing us a curious metal tube that my guide identifies as part of a hurricane system, namely a rocket propelling a bunch of explosives or grenades pulverizing everything in sight. In her odds and ends, she gets out another for us, an imposing and freshly burst 122mm shell “and you call it a truce?” 

The woman then said that her house is in ruins, than those of his children were also destroyed and must only think of repairs. “They even bombed the church which is just behind, it took several direct hits, and no doubt you have seen the school is closed too, they bombed it anyway, they’re shooting at us every night, there’s all kinds of stuff flying all over our heads. “

The disgust we feel on our way back is immeasurable. Nothing has changed, These people live in deplorable conditions and they are still getting targeted by the Ukrainian army. I ask everybody the same question “have you seen the Russian Army?” 

Same answer everywhere, provoking smiles, laughter and jokes, “No we have not seen.” On the ground, the thousands of shards, fragmented pieces of Grad rockets, of Smerch missiles, Hurricane and other residues of Ukrainian projectiles however prove it, and all the people are unanimous that the Ukrainian army is there and still shooting at unarmed civilians then the opportunity arises.

Four NATO countries have founded a training 
camp for the army in Lvov, what? Trainiing them to kill kill these people better? Faster ? Or simply to further stir up this ethnic war? 

The cohort of the dead of Donbass will never stop haunting Ukrainian memories and I would not wish to be the place of French diplomats who will have to account for shameless support of blood-soaked Ukraine, against all the values that are those of the Republic.

Laurent Brayard for DONI Press

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