There is supposed to be a ceasefire in Ukraine between government and rebel forces, but it means little in the battle-scarred town of Vuhlehirsk, where 8,000 inhabitants are stuck in no man’s land between the two sides. Grad rockets from nearby Ukrainian artillery positions on one side, and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) on the other, regularly whistle overhead. The locals count each burst: one, two, three, four; and then go back to what has become their normal business – wondering how to survive the next few days or months or years without salaries or pensions, roofs or windows.
Stranded on the frontline of the war, in Ukrainian hands and cut off from the nearby administrative centre, DNR-controlled Yenakiyeve, the people have been abandoned in a town where nothing works and no one is in charge anymore.
“We are like an appendix that has been cut out and left to die,” said Ira Litvin. “Now we don’t belong to anyone.”
From my story in yesterday’s Times. The real picture is grimmer and more surreal than this piece -I didn’t have the word-space to describe it properly.
“Our job is to tell the history of our region. Today, our sorry history is our war.” My East Ukraine story in here in Foreign Policy about Slovyansk museum’s latest collection, trying to make sense of those terrible, absurd months of occupation in 2014 when armed militants looted, murdered – and bought tickets to visit the museum on their days off.
A ‘separatist helmet’
I’ve been keeping a mental record of new Russian words I’ve learned since March – I initially wrote up some of them as Word of the Day or Week or Month, until they got too numerous and there was too much else to write about. But the list is still in my head, getting longer and longer, filling me with more and more dismay.
Why the hell have I had to learn words like гранатомёт (grenade launcher). Like огневые точки (gun emplacement). Like вторжение and контузия and осколочное ранение (invasion; concussion or shell shock; shrapnel wound).
Like отчаяние: despair.
(I’m in Ukraine, so you could say I should be learning these words in Ukrainian. But they belong to Russia, these words. All of them.)
“This is medieval savagery, it bears no relation to honour whatsoever. I can’t stand fighting against these people. But I have to, because I have to protect my country.”
That struck me as such a strange thing to say, because as far as I’m concerned the whole idea of honour in war is medieval; it’s a beautiful and beguiling myth of chivalry and damozels and knights in shining armour who belong between the pages of Malory. No one wears shining armour to fight in wars anymore (they never did). They wear secondhand camouflage scrounged from richer armies and whatever side they ‘re on they all look exactly the same.
I wonder how many of ‘these people’ fighting on the other side would repeat this quote, word for word.
My story where the quote comes from, about the Donbas Battalion here
A profile here on ozy.com about my novel Dream Land, Crimean Tatars, fairytales, and why I can’t write fiction about Ukraine now.
Working as a journalist in Ukraine in the early 2000s, my colleagues and I used to joke that the rest of the world was only interested in our stories if they involved Chernobyl, prostitution or violent death. What a hat-trick, if a Ukraine story scored all three. The only possible hotter topics were war and plane crashes.
Now Ukraine has just scored both. And the joke, which was never very funny, is just sick.
I’m sorry if I sound flippant. I don’t feel flippant.