Posts Tagged 'Gorlivka'

Before the war

People here are desperate for company. No one visits these rebel-held towns in east Ukraine anymore, except Russians who’ve come to fight. Friends and even relatives have stopped calling, because they are on the other side of the battle lines, or because they got lost for good in the middle of the battle.

My driver from Luhansk thawed from thinking I was at worst a spy, at best a liability, to inviting me home for lunch and telling me half his life story. His life these last six months, a chaos of family divisions and three jobs at once, none of them paid.

Six months ago he was driving a nice new van, delivering medications for patients on kidney dialysis throughout Luhansk region. Now he’s driving a beat-up Zhiguli, and unless they leave for Ukrainian-held territory the dialysis patients are going to die in two weeks time when the last medications run out.

My first driver, the day before when I asked him to pick me up, was extricating himself from a road accident with a drunk militant.

In former lives, just six months ago, these people had more or less-stable lives; were directors of companies; mine foremen, doctors. It is like the 1990s all over again, when the woman selling boxes of matches and single cigarettes on the street corner was a nuclear physicist in a just-former life.

Life before the war. Before the war, when no one realised how good life was.

“I can’t get used to saying it,” says Ira in Gorlivka, pouring out home-made wine at 9am to celebrate actually having a visitor. The breakfast pancakes are made with water; she can’t afford milk. She hasn’t been paid for her job as a kindergarten teacher since June; she spends her days calming children who run to hide whenever there is a bang or a crash. “We all learned that toast as children: ‘peace and understanding’, and it never meant anything to us before…”

Nikolay and Aleksey from the technical college in Gorlivka had modest, manageable enough dreams before the war: to move on to further study in Dnipropetrovsk or Kharkiv, to get a job. Now their dreams have dwindled to an imaginary country called ‘Novorossiya’ that they don’t really believe in anymore.

“There are no prospects here,” says Aleksey; no future in this place that’s harder and harder to get out of and where no one comes to visit.

Aleksey’s best friend and Nikolay’s cousin have both stopped calling; they might never come back again. They are in the Ukrainian army, fighting against ‘Novorossiya’.

“There’s a problem with the phone connection. He can’t call so often anymore,” says Nikolay about his cousin. “He’s got no choice.” There is a difficult pause. “We really hope that the ones in the Ukrainian army aren’t there by choice.”

The boys fall quiet. We listen to the missing calls, the silent phone lines, the absent visitors who once made toasts to peace, the voices of those who will never come home.

These are not ordinary people

I’m tired of hearing complaints about east Ukrainian refugees who do nothing to help themselves. Most of the east Ukrainians I have met here have worked all their lives, only to be kicked down again and again by economic collapse, by political machinations and greed, by army bombing and by sadists and bandits given license by war.

How do they carry on, when life is so hard, and so hard, and so desperately hard?

They all say “We are just small people, just ordinary people. War is never kind to us ordinary people”.

They are not politicians or oligarchs, they are not the ones designing and financing this war. No. They are the nurses who kept working in hospitals even while there was bombing and who treated everyone, Ukrainian or separatist; they are the miners who worry that the mines will flood and collapse without them, they are people like Roman, who even when his finger was chopped off just picked himself up and went back to work because he has two kids to feed, whose wife is now in Gorlivka being bombed but still working because someone has to bake bread for others to eat.

These people are not ‘ordinary’. They are inspiring and heartbreaking.

Pictures from the Good News church rehab centre, being rebuilt by refugees from besieged towns after it was shelled. You can read my story about it, and about Roman, here   

Volunteers and refugees from besieged towns rebuild the Good News rehab centre in Slavyansk

Nona in her oasis. Good News rehab cente in Slavyansk, now being rebuilt by refugees

Nona in her oasis. 


Out of the war

More from me in the Times today on families caught up in the East Ukraine conflict, and the volunteers doing such incredible work evacuating them from besieged towns to safety.

Many of these volunteers were refugees themselves until Slovyansk was retaken by the Ukrainian army in July. Now they are working independently of both sides in the conflict.

“The Ukrainians don’t bother us because we are helping them by getting people out; it means fewer victims,” says Vladimir Parkhomenko, who drives a bus daily to Horlivka from the Good News church in Slovyansk. “The DNR confiscated some of our vehicles, so we try not to go near them.”

The children he brings out of H0rlivka marvel to see shops fully stocked with goods in Slavyansk, and run for cover when an aeroplane drones far overhead…




My day yesterday, driving way too fast around Gorlivka near Donetsk with the original armed Russian revolutionary in a commandeered police car with smashed windows shot out by ‘fascists’… condensed into a sensible news article.  

I’ll wrote up the more crazy personal version here soon.

previous posts

A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland

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