We drive slowly on the snow-covered roads of Donbass, somewhere north of Donetsk. I am in a taxi with three other passengers, all strangers. We four found ourselves in a village looking for transportation to Donetsk. The late hour prevents use of mass transit. Night has fallen and it is getting colder, around – 13 ° C. Chance, and our common interest, led us to find a driver who would take us to the capital of DPR and let us share the cost. Our driver turns out to be a volunteer, a native of Donbass on leave who was home with family for the holiday celebration. There are also two women, Nadia and Elena and I soon learn they are wives of volunteers.
I listen to their conversation; nobody has realized yet that I’m a foreigner, so the discussions are free and open. Nadia and Elena are about 40. Nadia is returning from the front where she was visiting her husband, a sapper in a unit of volunteers of the Republic. She speaks of her son Ilya, 10, and has lots of stories about he life and the war:
“I went up to spend some days with my husband, to support him and take care o him. It’s not much fun at the front; the temperatures are really low” She stops — “You wouldn’t be a foreigner, by any chance?” The instant is crucial; the passengers are hanging on my answer. “You’re an OSCE observer?” My plain-spoken reply about that organization, considered here as a criminal one, makes them all laugh, and the ice is definitely broken. She continues.
“I live with my parents in the west of Donetsk; everything in the neighborhood is bombed out, but we have never left, at any time. My husband and I, we decided we’re going to stay right here. It’s our country, our town, and what could make us leave home? So my husband signed up in the militia of the Republic and I supported his choice; since then he fights, and we are proud of him.”
Elena chimes in, explains that she too had just been visiting her husband, filling in every now and again with the droll expression ‘as my husband is always saying.
She makes me laugh several times, her face is sparkling and her energy is palpable, she also tells me the same story: “Leave? With the rise of Nazism in Ukraine? And to where? My husband also volunteered to sign on, I go every month for a few days, I bring him and his comrades — who are less fortunate, who are not married or don’t have family — good things to eat to improve their usual fare “.
Nadia continues, “we put the rear base in order, we cook, we take care of the laundry, we do the darning and the sewing, They’d be lost without us, you know!!!” The women laugh, and the volunteer also and the conversation continues in this tone. Elena explains that survived a bombing in July 2014, she was on a bus hit by a Ukrainian shell: “I was in back and that’s what saved me; up front,they were all dead, I saw a vehicle jump into the air in front of us; we evacuated the wounded and the survivors. After dark, you could see explosions and the projectiles in the air, it was like a fireworks display, except that in this case, it was war and death. “
The two women impress me. They were strong participants in their husband’s choice, in the hearth of Russophone Donbass; I perceive the patriotic faith, the total rejection of the Brown Ukraine of Kiev and Lvov. They bring to my mind the women of the Vendée, supporting their men in combat in September of 1793, at the battle of Torfouor again of their counterparts, the vivandières and cantinières marching right along with the armies of the Republic.
Also, contrasting the example of that woman of Kiev under the trappings of FEMEN with the women volunteers of Donbass, it is clear that between sexism and courage, hatred and belief in a just cause, contempt or simplicity, that the light emanating from these wives of Republican soldiers is vivid. I would not have to talk a lot in this journey, of course, rather I listen as they tell their joys, their fears, their commitment, and their faith in the future of their country. As often as I have been impressed by the youth of Donbass, the female side certainly holds unsuspected resources. The guys will hold the front because the rear echelon is solid.
Contributing editor and volunteer translator Tom Winter, retired Classics professor, monitors the news in 6 languages, and sometimes cannot help writing satire, since that’s what today’s news mostly deserves