Shakhta 6-7: life under the fallout shelter amidst the incoming shells

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 Laurent BRAYARD, in DONiPRESS, May 2, 2016
Translated from French by Tom Winter 

We are heading toward Gorlovka under a mostly cloudy threatening sky before reaching the northern edge of the city. It’s near a mine, Shakhta 6-7, which is also the name of the village. Three hundred civilians still occupy this village, though it is bombed almost daily and close to the front, between 1 and 1.5 km from the front lines. 

Civilians coming out of the houses upon our arrival look haggard, impoverished in appearance, and tired. They take us in at what used to be a school, partly destroyed by shelling. In basements that were planned as a fallout shelter during the Cold War, live 17 civilians whose homes have been reduced to dust.

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It is a babushka who takes us into the school’s womb. We land in a basement. It’s cold even for this late April. There is nothing except a pretend kitchen and an old woman of 81 years, heartsick, who is restored by eating grated carrots. A man reads a book, the scene is strange, there is nothing but chipped childish murals and debris littering the ground here and there. The main “habitation”house” is further on, where pulled-up carpets serve as doors, electric frypans and other improvised heating plates are used for heating and cooking. The delapidatedness of the place is great, the faces are marked.

The grandmother spells out their life for nearly two years in the ruins of Shakhta 6-7, the constant danger, the hard winters, the recent death of an aged woman who will therefore have seen as the last image of her long life, the despair of her home turned to rubble in a terrible war of which she will have been a collateral victim. 

The children have almost all been evacuated, just a girl and a boy of about 14 who go to school five kilometers away on foot every day under the threat of fire. Last year a car with all its occupants were torn apart when hit by Ukrainian artillery. People died all around in their homes.

The surroundings are bucolic, despite the presence of a large heap of mine tailings. The whole area is spotted with cottages that housed once happy people. It is obvious that here, amidst the gardens and the orchards, life would be sweet. Instead, we discovered an improvised monument, it is a hurricane missile, a death weapon enthroned standing in front of destroyed houses and supported by shrapnel of all the possible sizes in the Ukrainian army. 

The grandmother weeps, she explains that she has seen the Red Cross arrive on rare occasions, and the OSCE even less. They essentially survive thanks to aid from the Russian Federation and Russian or foreign humanitarian funds. Without these activists, they would have been dead long since.

In all my time here, I have rarely seen such a disastrous situation. I must say that we are far from the capital, in a corner of the front rarely visited, built between the town of Gorlovka and one very hot spot: the location of Zaïtsevo. 

Though these people still have electricity here — which they don’t in Spartak — there is no heat and well water is the only alternative for survival. Here as elsewhere at the front, many more or less stray dogs appear at all street corners. The conversation of everyone is the same, the total misunderstanding of this murderous war of which they are the victims, the anger of the people vis-à-vis the regime Kiev, the Maidan, imprecations against Poroshenko, and the neo-Nazi excesses of one part of the population of Ukraine, whose members attack and bombard.

We leave with a heavy heart, the general mood is sad, they will stay in this hell, perhaps for many months more. A woman will approach us to show us her house pierced through and through by a Ukrainian shells, there hardly remains much of what was a nice house. She shows me her hand, it lacks a finger, an old time accident at work: “this is what allows me to survive, I have 400 rubles pension (about 6 euro) and the humanitarian aid from the Russian Federation and other organizations. My daughter died of cancer, my little son is in the Kursk region with his father, at least he is safe, but for two years I haven’t seen them; with so little money how could I join them?”

I do not know how to answer that — how could I? We returned to Donetsk through the potholed roads. Because of the illegal occupation by the Ukrainian army of the highway connecting Gorlovka and Donetsk at Yacinovataya, the trip to the north of the region is an adventure. But it is nothing however compared with the death hanging over the people of Chartakh 6-7, a place of death such as I have rarely seen in the Donbass.

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