“Mama, are they robots?” the children of Donbass under artillery and sniper fire, Part one

despite everything, the village continues to live and recover

Donbass: Children live here
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Kristina Melnikova, in EADaily

“Mom, are they robots?”: The Children of Donbass under artillery and sniper fire
The Donetsk frontline settlement Aleksandrovka is divided from Marinka, which is held by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, only by a hollow, half a kilometer wide. It is mined, which prevents attacks, but does nothing to stop the shelling.

On the Ukrainian side, Lenin Street, leading from Aleksandrovka to Marinka, goes onto  the Shchurovsky slag heap, from which the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine can see everything. In the spring months I came to Alexandrovka several times, and each time there was unrest – machine guns rattled, something rumbled, and on our last visit we also came under fire as we came out from a resident’s house.

Ukrainian forces hold the slag heaps at Marinka
Ukrainian forces hold the slag heaps at Marinka

By the rules of wartime
The war gave rise to a special type of local leaders who, in a critical situation, turned out to be ready to take on considerable responsibility for the life of the front-line territories. In Aleksandrovka, Konstantin Chaly turned out to be such a person.

Already, at the threshold of his office, you realize that you haven’t come to the ordinary village administration, but practically to the military commander’s office. One wall is completely filled with shells that landed in the village.

After the war, Chaly dreams of creating a museum in Alexandrovka about the atrocities of the Ukrainian side, and this is part of the future exposition. Each projectile in the office has its own dark story. Chaly narrates, recalling the dates and details from memory:

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Future Museum Exhibit: the shelling of Alexandrovka
Future Museum Exhibit: the shelling of Alexandrovka

“This is in June 15, the “Hurricane” hit us, 8 pieces arrived, all of the cassettes. One of them fell on Kirov Street, two people died. A 19-year-old boy was killed by shrapnel; a 64-year-old woman also died, who came to Alexandrovka to visit with a Textile worker. Another “Hurricane” stuck up side by side in the garden. This 120th mine flew into a house on Shkolnaya Street, we found its shank in the bedroom. LNG fly to us all the time. “Grad” flew on January 21, 2015, exactly 40 “hailstones” lay down on 133 Shkolnaya Street – the house was destroyed. Thank God, no one died. There are here “Bumblebees”, thermobaric anti-tank grenades. When the Right Sector came here (a banned organization in Russia. – EADaily), they tried to destroy our passenger bus. Most recently, this anti-tank guided missile flew to us, it fell down at 8 Kirov Street and damaged a private plot.”

In the village now, as Chaly said, there is one operating school where more than 200 people study, an ambulance station, a kindergarten, and a post office. Now 3,500 people live in Aleksandrovka, while two thirds of the village belong to the socially vulnerable groups of the population – families with several children, and retirees. Nowhere is there work in the once agricultural Alexandrovka.- We have 12 stores, four social facilities, out of four large farms there is only one small farm left. Sown – zero, plowed – zero, all under combat, all mined.
I will try to get at least two fields defined for produce. So much for administration.

The fighting situation is almost always consistently tense. Armed Forces of Ukraine shell the village from the “cliffs.” Grenade launchers, mortars and infantry fighting vehicles, beat on the residential buildings. Even the eastern part of the village, which is considered safer, suffers. A few months ago, as Chaly told, a pregnant woman almost died, who managed to jump out a few seconds before one landed there.
But, despite everything, the village continues to live and recover. During the war, 20 people have died in Aleksandrovka, and this is relatively few, given the heavy shelling that the village has undergone.
A lot of people, as Chaly notes, die from stress, from exacerbation of chronic diseases after heavy bombardment:- Every shelling we have here someone dies due to stress – about 8 people per month. We are in a lowland and, like a big ear, we hear everything. And not everyone survives the strong booms. We had a case when the heart of even a young man could not stand it.
Before the war, Chaly, who now almost knows every resident of the village by name, headed one of the coal departments of a large enterprise. With the outbreak of hostilities, he began to actively help the militia.- Just at that time in Slavyansk there were many dead and wounded, we helped, collected whole cars of necessary help with our own money, accepted refugees, evacuated people. And when the first shells covered Aleksandrovka (it was on July 13, 2014, thena full package of “Grad” flew in from the Ukrainian side) and the first major exodus of people took place, we were already here engaged in helping and transporting the wounded, of which there were many,” Chaly recalls.

Read Part Two here

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