–Who is that?
Someone asked that question in the comments. And I suddenly realized I never
wrote anything about Olya.
Some are proud of having seen Brad Pitt,
others that they know Woody Allen. Yet others are
proud Putin shook their hand, or that Obama took a picture with
them. There are many reasons to be proud.
Mine is the friendship with Olya.
I took this photo in February, one month after her husband, the acting mayor of Pervomaysk, was killed.
It was still January.
We were heading for Pervomaysk
I recall that phone call at night–“Guys, they killed Zhenya, and three Moscow aid workers with him.”
Many of my friends and relatives mentally buried me then.
Yes, it could have been us had we arrived a day earlier…
A horrific coincidence in space and time.
I didn’t take a phone with me, it was inaccessible.
We got into a major accident, car smashed to pieces, a total wreck. We were alive only by a miracle.
I didn’t write about it–I didn’t want to encourage the trolls. My
nervous system was stretched like a bowstring. The four of us were driving
in a three-seat van packed to the brim with aid for Pervomaysk. I was bent double the whole time.
That phone call finished us off–we fell into a depression.
I saw what Yevgeniy Ishchenko had done for the city.
And I couldn’t care less about his earlier life. I won’t even read it because I’m judging him by his present deeds.
I saw how every official fled the city which was being shelled to dust for six months straight. Most everyone else fled, too.
Zhenya stayed and did everything for the city. For its inhabitants.
Under falling shells, in a hopeless situation–he was trying to organize things.
He went to all the offices, begging for aid for his city.
That’s how I found out about Pervomaysk’s humanitarian catastrophe. That’s how my road to Donbass began.
After I learned that the city was under siege and was starving.
I brought aid to the city.
And there were many others like me. Only thanks to Zhenya.
But he was no more…
What would happen to the city?
And then in February we were once again bringing a van of food.
The city, as before, being shelled.
We arrived at the administration building–we could hear the whomps in
the background. OSCE chickened out and didn’t stick its nose outside of
It was “whomping”–that’s how the Donbass people refer to the explosions.
It was scary. I won’t lie and pretend otherwise.
Those whomps remain with me forever. You heard them every few minutes.
The city emptied out. Nobody in the streets.
Trees covered with snow.
Only the administration people were running around and solving problems.
Tape shut holes in the walls, deal with broken gas mains, water mains, or something else.
Help the victims.
They solved problems when the entire previous government ran away.
It simply vanished from the city.
–So who stepped up after Zhenya?
Everyone thought the city was abandoned.
That must have been a major miscalculation for whoever wanted to get rid of Zhenya.
Olya is a beautiful woman with an unbending character and will.
And she was in the city all this time. Did not leave, even though she had many opportunities.
She remained and holds the city together even today.
One doesn’t simply enter Pervomaysk–you have to get through a
checkpoint. Nobody except local registered inhabitants are let through.
So here we are, waiting with our loaded van.
A guy walks up, it’s obvious he’s new. Wants to show off before the muscovites:
–Where to and what for?
–We are bringing aid.
–They steal everything, I should know.
I nearly choked.
–Who, my dear?
–All of them?
The youth who so far hasn’t seen anything and didn’t know anything,
starts naming names. He didn’t know I knew these people for a long time.
I recall how I asked Rostik who was walking around in boots with holes
during winter: “Maybe you need some boots, eh?” “Dunya, it’s OK, I’ve
got all I need.”
I always asked them what they needed. And they never asked for anything for themselves.
I started shaking right at the checkpoint. And he looks at me:
–They’ll take for themselves whatever you are bringing.
–We are taking it to cafeterias, how will they take it?
–There are no cafeterias and never were. They’ll take it home and eat it.
–What do you mean, no cafeterias? I know they exist.
Looking like an expert, he continue to spin his nonsense.
I’ll say this: dirtbags like this cause many rumors. Which reach the
internet and then everyone starts writing they saw this in person. And
then people start writing that so and so is a friend from over there and
knows what he’s talking about! Because he saw it! He was “bringing the situation to light”, sure.
I personally delivered to the cafeterias. The women who work there know me personally.
Nine (!!!) community cafeterias started working by the summertime.
There were only three in all of Lugansk. Can you imagine? Lugansk, the capital, had three, and tiny Pervomaysk–NINE!
And they fed the whole city. We brought them food every time. You remember that from my earlier reports.
The cooks cried when they realized where the aid was coming from. When they realized people in Russia remembered them.
In the spring, Lugansk ordered the city to reduce the number of cafeterias. But all nine continued to operate.
They simply hid that from the authorities. And continued to feed people. For free. Because people had nothing to eat.
And yes, right now there are only three cafeterias. But they are working.
Olya and her whole team are very concerned about that.
At that checkpoint I thought I would scratch this lowlife’s eyes out for spreading such rumors.
Whenever we come, Olya tries to come with us to deliver the aid to needy families. Everyone knows her.
And she knows the whole city. Who has what problems, which roofs need
fixing, where the kids need help, and where are the abandoned
We were talking to a grandma in one of the destroyed buildings. She
showed us what was left of her house and asked for aid with construction materials. After our talk everyone went back to the car and
the grandma grabbed me by the elbow.
–We have to go, there’s no time.
–Tell them the old woman lost her mind and wouldn’t let you go.
I went with her to the back. And she has a plum tree. Big, with spreading
branches. I look, and she picks plums and puts them into a bag.
–Please, no, there’s no need.
–That’s for the children of Olga Igorevna. Please give it to her.