Trucks carrying Russian humanitarian aid cross the Ukrainian border at the Izvarino custom control checkpoint on August 22.
More accounts from people living in occupied Eastern Ukraine. Part 2 with some more comments and thoughts, check part 1 as well in the previous post.
Pyotr Ivanov, psychologist, Luhansk
In no way do I intend to portray myself as a great visionary. There are more than enough candidates for the role of “civil war prophets” as it is. What I want to say is that, as early as June, I intuitively felt that all this would not end quickly, that the conflict would inexorably cause the destruction of infrastructure and the loss of livelihood.
FerFAL Comment: Its interesting to notice how often people will tell you they “felt” this of that yet didn’t act. While you can’t always run scared every time you think something may go wrong (and many preppers do this, bordering paranoid behaviour) a survivalist haw to know when to act on those gut feelings.
War is most disastrous for city dwellers. Their survival depends not on whether cherries ripen on time in their garden but on whether they receive their salaries or pensions.
I lost my job in June when my company shut down. Despite the shelling, I decided to look for another job in Luhansk. I turned to friends who were in a position to help. In other words, I acted according to my own stereotypes.
Other people who are, like me, hostage to the situation have other stereotypes — for example, a World War II veteran who lives close to my home. Until September, he survived on his savings and counted on his relatives for help. His relatives, however, left in June. In early September, he pinned his medals to his chest and went to the “Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) authorities” to demand the immediate payment of his pension (although no pensions have been paid to anyone since July). The LNR leaders simply shrugged their shoulders and said they couldn’t do anything for him.
In August, rumors began swirling that a humanitarian convoy was on its way from Russia. Everyone in the city began thinking about this convoy. People forgot about the war, about the bombs. All thoughts and conversations focused on the impending humanitarian aid.
Finally, the white trucks arrived. Residents were told that receiving the aid was very simple. All we had to do was show up at distribution points with our passports.
People almost murdered each other queuing up for these parcels. Rebels with machine guns restored order; there would probably have been casualties otherwise.
FerFAL Comment: Also common is that the grass is greener on the other side of the hill. The city dweller think he has it tough because of unemployment while other people in Eastern Ukraine living outside city limits complain that they never get to the food distribution trucks in time. The economic mess also affects farmers, just like everyone else.
What does a humanitarian parcel look like? It consists of two kilos of buckwheat, three cans of corned beef, half a kilo of sugar, and a pack of tea. I received humanitarian aid twice, and only because my neighbor queued up for me. Honestly, I could not have withstood a line of 300 people. This was the first time.
FerFAL Comment: Take note: Flour, canned meat, sugar, tea. Also dry pasta, sauce and rice. The stuff that will keep you alive.
The second time, the line had grown to 700 people. I know this because people wrote their queue number on their hands.
My neighbor had a seizure because of the heat and I took him home. We eventually got the humanitarian parcels, three days later.
I don’t know how many people received these parcels, and how many times. I’ve heard that some people had permanent coupons.
At some point I realized that this humanitarian aid wasn’t worth the calories spent on receiving it and I stopped thinking about it.
I held two jobs in the course of the siege. Then autumn came. Refugees started returning. Hospitals and schools reopened; many businesses resumed their activities.
Entrepreneurs, whose livelihoods relied solely on cash inflow from customers, enjoyed the most advantageous situation. I won’t go into the problems tied to running a business nowadays in Luhansk; they do exist.
The situation for public-sector employees was, and is, much worse. The most fortunate receive their salaries in the shape of food rations similar in content to the humanitarian parcels.
The question of public-sector salaries is still up in the air, since the legal status of schools and hospitals is unclear. The Ukrainian government’s decision to relieve itself of financial responsibility toward employees of state-run institutions in Luhansk and Donetsk put an end to any hope of help from Kyiv. On the other hand, there is obviously no local source of funding for public-sector agencies in Luhansk.
Many nonetheless continue to act in line with their stereotypes. They go to work in the morning, although they haven’t been paid for almost six months.
FerFAL Comment: Expect denial to be very strong. People just keep doing their thing desperately trying to gasp normality.
Viktor Alanov, social worker, Donetsk
It has unfortunately become fashionable to consider that all those who stayed back in the rebel-controlled territories are pro-Russian morons and accomplices of terrorists, that all decent people fled a long time ago.
It has become fashionable to state that this “cut-off slice” must be left alone, that there’s no point fighting for it. Let them die out there in their “Russian world” they wanted so badly.
Unfortunately, this stance is not only misguided, it is also harmful — both for those living in the occupied territories and for Ukraine as a whole.
A nurse cooks on an outdoor fireplace due to the lack of gas inside the Mental Hospital N1/4 2 on the outskirts of Donetsk in December.
Firstly, as long as these armed pro-Russians continue to run the show here, there is a real threat of war for the rest of Ukraine. This cannot be denied. Freeing all the territories is the only hope for solid and lasting peace in Ukraine.
Secondly, there are, indeed, many of these morons here. Many more than some would like. But there are also numerous pro-Ukraine residents here who didn’t participate in the referendum and the pseudo-elections.
Yes, we in Donbas have our “own way” of loving Ukraine. Not all of us approve of monuments being knocked down in our cities. Far from all of us regard the [World War II-era anti-Soviet] Ukrainian Insurgent Army and [Stepan] Bandera as heroes. Many of us believe Russian should enjoy the status of second national language in Ukraine. And no, let’s be honest, not all of us supported the Maidan protests.
We are, however, united by the desire to live in Ukraine, and we have not backed the separatists in any way. Today, in occupied Donetsk, former “anti-Banderas” supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity shake hands with “Banderas”; advocates of dual-language status shake hands with supporters of Ukrainian as the sole official language.
Do you understand what is going on here?
Here in Donetsk, we are uniting, which is almost unprecedented, while in “mainland Ukraine” we often hear that we don’t exist and that we must be “let go”!
On December 26, the rebels released about 150 Ukrainian fighters. Many of them were local men. Just look at pro-Ukrainian local groups on Facebook and Twitter! You will find very few (if any at all) real names and surnames, but behind every pseudonym stands a real Donbas resident, a Ukrainian citizen who wants to live in his country! Read what they write! Feel the mood that radiates from their conversations, which offer them a psychological escape from what is unfolding in our cities.
Please answer this question: What do these people, who are not guilty in any way toward Ukraine and its people, who live in areas where their country cannot protect them, who wake up and go to sleep every day with the knowledge they can be “picked up” and killed any minute, who are robbed and humiliated by pro-Russian militants, who have no means of publicly voicing their opinions, who are still clinging to the hope that their land will be reunited with Ukraine, what do these people feel when they hear that “all of them out there” must be barred from either entering or leaving, that they must be contained by moats and barbed wire, and deprived of electricity and gas?
You must answer this question not to me but to yourself.
An elderly woman pulls a cart with firewood near the Donetsk airport in November.
An elderly woman pulls a cart with firewood near the Donetsk airport in November.
And why then, when some claim that “only accomplices of terrorists remain out there, all the decent people have left,” are these “decent people” unable to find rented accommodation and employment? Where are they supposed to go when citizens of this united Ukraine treat them like lepers and don’t want to have anything to do with them?
Thankfully, such behavior is not the rule, although it’s far from rare.
Sooner or later, the occupied parts of Donbas will return into Ukraine’s fold. We have absolutely no doubt about that. Our country will be united again. But every one of you, brothers, must understand that, while we wage a ruthless war against terrorism, efforts must already be made to win the minds of residents in occupied territories instead of thrusting them aside — even of those who are now hostile to Kyiv.
With those who have illegally taken up arms, the talk can be short — they must, and they will, bear responsibility for participating in a terrorist organization. But sooner or later, a peaceful coexistence will have to be established with the others, those who did not hold weapons in their hands, however “strange” these people may appear today.
FerFAL Comment: Probably fuelled by a strong dose of “The Walking Dead” , common among American preppers is this WROL idea, thinking that during this “without rule of law” period everything goes. Not true. Eventually law is restored and eventually you will have to answer for your actions. That’s how it always goes, sooner or later. The lesson? Always stay on the right side of the law. If you have to defend yourself, make sure to take pictures, names of witnesses and make sure you know who you will call to back your side of the story when the police eventually knock on your door. Forget the WROL nonsense, they will knock on your door eventually.
The battle for Ukraine is not only waged on the front lines. It takes place in heads and hearts. Let’s decide what is more important for us: that Ukraine be united again or that “people out there die from their stupidity”?
Believe me, it’s much more difficult for us here to watch this “stupidity” than for you. But it will pass. Just remember how you traveled to Donetsk for Euro 2012. What unity with the whole nation could be felt back then in the streets of Donetsk!
What’s taking place in the heads of some Donetsk residents today is the result of Russian television propaganda. Why are people buying it? It’s hard to say. After all, more than 100 million people are “buying it” in Russia. But it will pass.
When every one of us — instead of seeking revenge against peaceful fellow citizens whose city happened to be occupied — asks himself how he can help us, then we will know for sure that peace and Ukraine’s return to the occupied territories of Donbas are within reach.
And yes, as soon as the war ends and it will be safe again here for all citizens of Ukraine, I promise to invite all of you, brothers, and give you a tour.
Nadia Nadezhdyna, sociologist, Snizhne, Donetsk region
In telephone conversations, my friends and I try to avoid answering any questions. You can feel the constant fear that people have of the new authorities, and life in this city is far from easy.
Even before the new authorities came, this city was depressed and dependent on state subsidies. The only successful businesses here were the Snezhnyansky Machine-Building Plant, a local branch of the Zaporizhzhya firm Motor-Sich, and the Zarya mine. Pensioners make up most of the adult population. And as it turned out, those retirees ended up forming the main social basis for the separatist movement.
Payments to those dependent on the state budget were chronically in arrears. Local authorities tried to make the payments by taking short-term bank loans. After Russian forces entered the city in early June and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk personally ordered local accounts blocked, residents seemed condemned to a hungry death. And in Snizhne, this happened more quickly than in other towns in the region.
In September, when the cease-fire was signed, local pensioners traveled en masse to Ukrainian-controlled territory to reapply for their pensions. However, in November, the government announced a complete financial and economic blockade of the territories within the zone of the antiterrorism operation (ATO). They stopped paying pensions and other social benefits to all except those designated as displaced. All the bank machines were shut down, as was Sberbank. This led many pensioners to despair. There were sufficient groceries and other goods in the stores and at the market, but they couldn’t buy anything because they had no money.
FerFAL Comment: Again, the same problem. The problem of not having enough money.
Over the last couple of weeks, anger has been mounting among the elderly and miners.
And this anger is directed at both the authorities of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) and Yatsenyuk’s government. Some angry reactions were provoked when several buses carrying miners were barred from traveling to Zaporizhzhya, in the zone controlled by the Ukrainian military, to pick up their salaries from banks there, where they had been sent months ago. They were stopped at a Ukrainian military checkpoint.
There is a lot of talk about the “checks” of trucks with foodstuffs at Ukrainian checkpoints. And there is some evidence about “confiscations.” A businessman named K. spent 40,000 hryvnyas ($2,500) in Dnipropetrovsk on supplies for his store. But he was detained and forced to hand over all his cargo to a distribution center.
Ukrainian authorities, too, are heavily criticized. Pensioners often complain about the huge lines to register in the areas controlled by Ukraine and about the bribes it takes to get service without queuing up. In Kharkiv, for instance, one pensioner waited his turn for two weeks before “settling matters” through people he knows.
There is talk that dozens of people have died of hunger and about a dozen have committed suicide. I won’t name any names. A couple of weeks ago, medical workers were speaking about 54 people dead and five who committed suicide. (Editor’s note: RFE/RL was unable to independently confirm these figures.)
FerFAL Comment: Don’t expect much of a fair treatment from the occupying force that invaded your country. My advice? Get the hell out of there before you’re surrounded!
Huge lines of pensioners form in front of the former office of Privatbank, all seeking financial help from the DNR. It works like this: You take a coupon for assistance at the social-security department and then you bring your coupon and get money. There is no information about how many people are served each day. Sometimes lines form outside the city at branches of Sberbank or Ukrpochta as rumors spread that they are handing out money.
People talk all the time about the shelling around the city. DNR representatives are tight-lipped about the reasons for the shelling and who exactly is doing the shelling, and this silence creates panic. People speak of columns of Russian military vehicles passing through the city. But for the most part, people are afraid to express their views openly.
Medical workers are unhappy that teachers and artists received money, but they didn’t. Social workers still haven’t seen a kopeck. But most pensioners are still hoping for Russian pensions and for the DNR to be admitted into the Russian Federation. And so they give their moral support to the DNR.
Viktor Alanov, social worker, Donetsk
I am a Donbas native. I am an ethnic Russian. I speak both Russian and Ukrainian fluently, although I consider Russian my mother tongue.
I was never anti-Ukrainian. I always took Ukraine for granted, a fact I considered neither good nor bad. I saw to which abyss Vladimir Putin was leading Russia all these years and I had long stopped associating myself with this country.
To quote the famous Yevgeny Kiselyov (not to be confused with Dmitry Kiselyov!), I will say this about myself: “I am a political Ukrainian.”
I highly valued the civil rights that I enjoyed as a Ukrainian citizen and that Russian citizens have long been deprived of. By the way, I always thought people did not sufficiently appreciate these rights and understood this would inevitably lead to attempts to take them away from us.
FerFAL Comment: Huge point right there. If you don’t appreciate your rights, one day you wont have them any more. A professor once told me rights are like muscles, if you don’t exercise them often you lose them. He was right.
I was never a fervent Ukraine patriot. I never felt any particular emotion when I saw a Ukrainian flag. I did not like the anthem much and I definitely never liked nationalists. But I was always interested in Ukrainian culture and against splitting the country.
Then came spring 2014. It was a time of unabashed idiocy and surrealism. Aggressive “defenders of Donbas” appeared in the streets and began assaulting residents of this very Donbas.
Before they received weapons (at least officially), they used antifascist slogans to attack peaceful demonstrations by pro-Ukraine Donbas residents. I remember one of their statements online. It read: “Fascists will rally on March 13. Let’s meet them. Take surgical instruments with you to rid them of their Ukrainity.”
These words were taken literally.
FerFAL Comment: Propaganda, violence instigation, social division. All powerful tools used often.
What is this, if not fascism? On that day, thousands (!) of people rallied in Donetsk for a united Ukraine. The demonstrators were attacked by the “defenders of Donbas.” They were severely beaten up, maimed, and activist Dmitro Chernyavskiy was stabbed to death.
It was a time during which ideas were distorted in a horrific manner, perhaps even more than now. Anyone who opposed Ukraine’s division was automatically branded a fascist, a “Maidanut,” a “Banderovets,” a subhuman. Even if you had never been a fascist, did not support the Maidan protests, and were not a [Stepan] Bandera follower, it was all the same to them — you were an enemy.
During the hysterical euphoria that followed the takeover of the regional administration building, it was wise to avoid this rabid crowd. You would have had no chance of a fair trial, lawyers, presumption of innocence. You would have had no chance to even be heard. The crowd demanded that fascists be dealt with, and the harsher the punishment the better.
Rules against the retroactive effect of laws did not apply in the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” either. All those who participated in the Euromaidan protests (both in Kyiv and Donetsk) were retroactively declared enemies and “sentenced to death.”
Once the bandits got their hands on weapons, things really got started.
A local lawmaker was kidnapped in Horlivka. His gutted body was found near Slovyansk. For what? Simply for opposing pro-Russian militants who tried to raise a Russian flag over the city council building. That’s all! In Slovyansk, an elderly man was gunned down simply for bringing water to a Ukrainian checkpoint. Anyone who publicly expressed support for Ukraine was thrown in a separatist jail, or worse.
FerFAL Comment: Flags, clothe colours, comments you make to a friend or neighbour, YOUR FACEBOOK comments! All of it can get you imprisoned or killed.
By the way, fans of the “Russian world” were somewhat upset that their leaders confronted Ukrainian nationalism not with internationalism but with bona fide Russian nationalism, monarchical bells and whistles, and a boorish rejection of all things progressive. For some reason, this was called “antifascism.”
These “defenders” then proceeded to strip Donbas residents of their freedom of movement (they established checkpoints) and violate their private property (they freely entered flats and vehicles at checkpoints).
It was precisely Donbas residents who were locked up, executed, deprived of their civil rights: free speech, freedom of conscience, and religion (Protestants and Orthodox believers of the Kyiv Patriarchate, for instance, were massively repressed in the areas controlled by the militants).
These “defenders” brought war into the homes of Donbas residents, even though they were not under any real attack. They also went for Donbas journalists as soon as they got weapons. And all this happened before Ukraine’s antiterrorism operation even began!
It was because of their attempts to storm it on May 26 that the ultramodern Donetsk airport, which had cost so much to build, was destroyed. It is them, the fighters of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” who confiscated the cars of numerous Donetsk residents (including Russian and Russian-speaking!). Businesses were raided, too. Many were forced to shut down because they had been looted by militants, and people lost their jobs.
Because of them, banks and post offices no longer work. Because of them, our school and university graduates are receiving bogus papers instead of real diplomas. Because of them, there is no legal and social protection here and pensions and social benefits are not paid. Because of them, we have to live in this unrecognized “Donetsk People’s Republic” that is not from Donetsk, does not belong to the people, and is not a republic.
After just a month in these conditions, you understand how much you actually love Ukraine! We were elated to hear on May 2 that the antiterrorist operation was entering its active phase.
Shattered glass in a room at a hospital damaged by shelling in Donetsk in January.
Unfortunately, our territories were not freed from the pro-Russians in August as we had hoped. But now, when I travel to the liberated areas and see Ukrainian flags and soldiers defending Ukraine, I feel a lot more emotional than before. I see that, a few dozen kilometers from our hell, our Donbas people lead normal, peaceful lives. They study, they work, laws and law-enforcement organs function. Yes, they are not ideal. But people there live in their country and they are protected.
Right under my window, I can see separatists firing toward the airport. We very much want to believe they won’t rule here much longer. I think I know one more reason why Putin just can’t resolve to leave Donetsk, although all signs point to this being inevitable and necessary.
He is afraid that, when the city is freed, huge numbers of Donetsk residents to whom he and his sidekicks inflicted so much grief will gather on the central square with Ukrainian flags. He is afraid of seeing this scene, because it will be the final nail in the coffin of his propaganda.
Nadiya Nadezhdyna, sociologist, Donetsk
Many local residents describe Donetsk’s bomb shelters as hell on earth. Dirt, stench, tears, and blood. Bunkers are full of makeshift beds covered with multicolored pieces of cloth and blankets and bed linens of various degrees of freshness. It’s damp and cold.
Anyone who has spent even just a week under shelling suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. There are currently hundreds, maybe thousands, of people in Donetsk with post-traumatic stress disorder. They almost never leave the bomb shelters, although no one is shelling them anymore. Whenever they go out, they jump at every noise, some of them collapse and go into hysterics…
FerFAL Comment: As sad as bunkers may be, you’ll desperately need one if bombs start dropping.
Heart attacks and strokes are common. But, of course, no data is available anywhere about post-traumatic stress disorder. Doctors are starting to talk about suicides. Nobody knows how many people died from the consequences of the war, either.
Doctors say: “If no one can give us a death toll from the war, then we definitely have no idea how many people died from its consequences.”
In any case, there must already have been thousands of such indirect deaths.
This lack of data is largely to blame for the state of bomb shelters. They are in bad shape, as rescuers and experts from the department of civilian protection and military mobilization already observed back in May. These services were discontinued precisely because there is no data.
I was able to find out that the technical inventory of protective structures started by the cabinet of ministers in 2009 was scheduled to end this year. It was never completed.
The available information paints a very bleak picture. Over half of the region’s protective structures were inventoried in the past five years. In Donetsk, this figure represents 56 percent, including 88 percent of structures owned by the municipality. By law, some bunkers are reserved for people working in big companies, while others are for unemployed people.
A woman waits in a shelter for shelling to end in Donetsk’s Petrovski district on February 4.
The majority of shelters were deemed uninhabitable.
“These structures were built in the 1960s to the ’80s,” the Emergencies Ministry said last spring. “They were well-maintained during the Cold War era, but today they are outdated. The equipment doesn’t function, for instance. The filters of the ventilation systems need to be changed, etc.”
One should also bear in mind the fact that many bomb shelters fell into disrepair when companies shut down in the 1990s. Most of these companies were privatized.
When disaster struck, people had nowhere to hide. If the Ukrainian Army had stormed Donetsk like the Russians once stormed Grozny, tens of thousands of people would have died. It did not happen, and so the situation with bomb shelters was tackled. Experience has shown that during emergencies, wars, or terror attacks, the state and number of bomb shelters play an important role.
The commission’s final conclusion at the time was the following: “The protective structures of companies such as the Donetsk Coal Energy Company, the Tochmash factory, the Donetsk Metallurgical Plant, the Donetsk State Factory of Chemical Products, and many other companies are not ready for use.” This became a death sentence for some local residents. These are the areas of the city that saw the worst shelling.
How are people supposed to survive in these conditions? Where are they supposed to run if they are at home or in the street during an emergency
This is why basements and underground parking garages were turned into bomb shelters. So were the cellars of schools, houses of culture, and hospitals.
Rescuers, however, are skeptical. “This is a place to wait out the danger,” they say. “But in the event of a direct hit, it won’t protect anyone. Even a proper bomb shelter won’t.”
Even several weeks ago, Donetsk residents did not take the guidance on bomb shelters issued by city authorities seriously. It seemed like out of a war movie. Attitudes have since changed dramatically.
The situation with bomb shelters in the areas at the epicenter of the fighting is dire. In the Leninsky district, which has been shelled from the Shirokiy suburb, there is only one equipped bomb shelter: in the 21st Party Congress-House of Culture. For many, it is simply too far to reach if shelling breaks out.
Local residents say that basements are locked and that they have to run to shelters as explosions go off and shrapnel flies all around.
“I need to run three bus stops to reach the [House of Culture]. If shelling started, we would not make it alive,” a young woman told me. She was with two children ages 3 and 5. The youngest was clutching a doll; the other pressed a kitten tightly against her chest. You could see fear and despair in their eyes.
Mafia groups are rumored to be running the bomb shelters. When the shelling starts, they let in only their own people and demand money from the others.
FerFAL Comment: Even more reasons to a)have your own b)explore and find other viable shelter options c) Reach some sort of agreement with such people d)Quickly and discretely get rid of such people.
There are several open shelters in the Budonyvskiy district, mostly basements on October Street. The only real bomb shelter is behind the Pushkin monument. It was built in the 1960s and is very solid, but it is unsafe to stay inside for long. It’s damp, moldy, and the walls are moist with humidity.
The situation in other districts is just as bad. But despite the awful conditions in these shelters, people continue living in them. They have no choice. The windows of their homes are shattered, the walls are cracked, and the roofs are destroyed
And so the bomb shelters have become their refuge. Even people whose homes were spared by the shelling are afraid of sleeping in them. They go to their homes only to wash and cook. They spend the rest of the time underground.
This is how life is now in Donetsk. One resident described it this way: “We live in basements. We queue for humanitarian aid. Many people are sick, many are dying.”
FerFAL Comment: There is still more to come. Some information is more redundant but other comments have new, interesting perspectives.
Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre is the author of “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” and “Bugging Out and Relocating: When Staying is not an Option”.