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Living on the edge of peace and war

Vasyl and Mykola*, volunteers, returned from Slovyansk last week. They went to this city to bring humanitarian aid: food, clothes, fresh water. In Slovyansk one can hear bombings and shootings. Fights take place very close to the city, maybe 100k, maybe even less. During the night, separatists are firing from nearby forest.

Mykola tells us his first impressions: “The smell is really bad. There is no water in the city. Even when locals found some water they are too afraid to use it. Terrorists have been poising nearby water sources. People are bringing water by cars from Kharkiv region. Canalization pipes were destroyed. They have no water, no gas, no electricity. Communication lines are cut. I don’t understand why separatists are doing this. The winter is coming. What will they do? There are mines around the city. The center is safe, but you can see mines and bomb shells in the suburbs…”

Volunteers have brought drinking water and medicines, food for children and elders. They distributed food in the streets when they saw families with children and old people. They have also left some food in the local church: its premises are used for distribution of goods. Volunteers have bought bullet-proof vests; they have given them to Ukrainian self-defense forces. Moreover, they brought newspapers: not a single paper edition reaches this region.

Strange but true: a destroyed city is going back to normal, people dream of peaceful skies above their heads

Photo: censor.net

This city is a ruin

Vasyl shares his thoughts: “The city is a ruin. People are hungry, angry and tired. To restore Slovyansk we will ten, maybe fifteen years. Schools, hospitals, police offices were destroyed. Separatists have looted everything: furniture, electronics, and devices. They have destroyed everything they couldn’t steal. A lot of houses were bombed. People are afraid. They told us how they had to run away and hide in bunkers. Everybody was afraid, even those who supported separatists. Terrorists created a very powerful defense line. Their fortifications look quite professional. No doubts they were trained and well-equipped. However, there are not a lot of them. And what shocked me, is that they have built their defense lines between normal houses. But now, people are returning home, they try to rebuild their apartments”.

Volunteers explained that their help is needed. Local people try to unite their forces and work together to restore the city. Self-organized groups clean the streets, try to fix telephone and electricity lines. People are tired of shootings and deaths. They have nothing to eat. The disappointment is another problem. A lot of them thought that separatists will help them. They believed their promises and now are disappointed it didn’t work out. They are recalling the “referendum” and now they think that maybe it was a bad idea. However, many still believe that Russia can save them from an unknown enemy. They want Putin to protect them…

Volunteers refused to give their real names and didn’t want their pictures on-line. Not because they are shy, but because they plan to return to Slovyansk. During their dangerous journey, they will have to cross different checkpoints, controlled by our army but also by terrorists. They have to protect their identity to safely cross all checkpoints.  

Volunteers risk their lives

For example, a group of volunteers were traveling in the ATO zone. A priest was part of the group. When volunteers were arrested by separatists, they were badly beaten. At some point the priest explained to terrorists that he was from Moscow. Immediately they checked his identity, verified his story. They had all the connections to do it! Thanks to this priest, the group was freed. But everything can happen. However, volunteers are not afraid. The most important thing for them is to deliver humanitarian aid. They are ready to hide, to lie and to change sides if needed, only to arrive to their destination. Sometimes, they have to agree with terrorists and help them. It is surreal, but they are ready to do it to help civilians.

Slovyansk changed hands 86 days. It was first occupied on 12 April 2014 by a terrorist group of twenty people. Igor Girkin, known as the “Gunman”, a Russian officer, tried to impose his law on the city. Ukrainian army liberated the city afterwards. Again, Russian forces occupied Slovyansk and again our soldiers liberated it.

Ukrainian flag was raised in Slovyansk on 5 July 2014 by self-defense forces.

* Names are changed for security reasons

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