Not even two weeks have passed,but since my heart was still there, I came back to Donetsk!
What has changed during this time? In the center of the city, not to mention the suburbs, thethunder of cannons is heard more loud and clear. Soldiers of the DPR Army told us that Ukraine is bringing armored vehicles and even large caliber artillery to the contact line. But they have no order to fire back. And as we could see for ourselves on the front line, there are only assault rifles and hand-held grenade launchers against mortars and howitzers of the Ukrainian army forces. "They are shelling us every night, you're lucky that it's too early now. Otherwise a mine could fly in here any moment "- saida volunteer from the Czech Republic.
This time, we managed to visit a couple of "hot spots" in Donetsk: Oktyabrsky settlement and the airport. In the settlement we could see the ruins of houses and deserted streets. It is very close to the airport and Peskivillage, not easy to tolerate such a neighborhood. "How can I forgive Ukraine? Let him (Poroshenko) come here and try to live our life! "- burst out an old lady, a resident of the settlement.
An unexpected meeting awaited us further: on the deserted street we saw an old man walking a ... goat named Dasha! Naughty goat was nuzzling his hands, begging for a treat from his pockets. It turned out that the old man was living all alone.His wife died and his daughter can’t get out of Slavyansk. A goat and a cat is all what is left from what was once a big family.
We got to visit the airport together with Ivan Prikhodko, the head of the Kuibyshevsky district of Donetsk. What a fearless man! He is delivering humanitarian aid in person to the most shelled areas. Ivan was shell-shocked several times, but even the threat of snipers couldn’t stop him. Once a beautiful modernairportis lying in ruins now.As well as the residential quarters for the kilometers around. Streams of rain were running over the camera lens and filming had to be done in minutes. This was a very wrong place to open bright orange umbrella, an invitation for snipers!
The guards we were escorted by drew my attention to the trees growing on the territory of the airport.None of the treeswas alive. Black charred branches were chopped by shrapnel. And it looked even more horrifying than the ruins of the old and new terminals.
During my last trip I already have had a chance to talk with the fighters of the DPR army. But this time I was lucky enough to meet a living legend, the Voice of Donetsk: Eduard Basurin (Deputy Defense Minister).
We know very little about the man who is informing millions of viewers about the situation in Donbass. It turned out that in his spare time Eduard likes most of all to go for a walk in his hometown. As for the DPR army, he noted that the spirit of the fighters is great and people who came here answering the call of their hearts know exactly what they are fighting for. Despite the rain and the cold, fighters remain in their positions and nobody is going to lay down the arms. In a meanwhile,the threat of attack is increasing as Ukrainian vehicles which were withdrawn in February now havebeen returned to the front line. Moreover, for thelast few weeks a contingent of the Ukrainian army forces is concentrating along the line of contact. According to Eduard Basurin, such behavior leaves him perplexed and the longer Ukraine will delay complying with their obligations, the further Donetsk People's Republic will move away from Ukraine. However, Mr. Basurin hopes that the actions of Donetsk People's Republic will show to its Western neighbor that they’ve chosen far better path then the one of the Ukrainian government. For instance, when I asked about the most memorable moment during the war, Eduard replied that it was the summer of 2014, when he saw the communal servicessweeping the streets and planting flowers while shells and mines were falling on the city...
Alexander Afendikov (call-sign "Greek"), the first mayor of Debaltseve, told usabout the famous Debaltseveencirclement and the scale of destruction in the town. "If you didn’t leave the town, then you are the separatists and deserve to die": this was a principle of the Ukrainian troopswhich were shooting residential quarters from the tanks before theirretreat from Debaltseve. Minus 10 degreesCelsius, no power and no heating and misery in the eyes of children whoclimbed out of the basements. That's what Alexander had to face after the liberation ofDebaltseve. However, the recovery is going at full speed and according to Mr. Afendikov, those who have been in Debaltseve on February 18th and will come back now, will not recognize the city: it’slike day and night. Although Alexander has been transferred to the Department of External Relations of DPR, his heart is still bleeding forDebaltsevewhich became like a hometown for him and he continues to help its residents.
A curious story happened with the interview of the Hero of Novorossiya Mikhail Tolstykh (call-sign "Givi") which was published on our YouTube channel. Without realizing it, couple of Ukrainian mass media made an excellent advertising of DPR by sharing this video. Moreover, they even insisted that their readers should spare 10 minutes of their time and watch till the end, as they put it: "an interview with the boss of a gang “Somalia” to an international media resourceVoxPopuliEvo».
But it’s not only the natives of Donbass who are fighting in the DPR army.For example, there are volunteers from Serbia. We met with the commander DejanBeric(call-sign "Deki") whose tour of duty has begun in Crimea and Slavyanskand continued in Donetsk. He does not hide his face, despite the numerous threatsfrom his country.Because he knows that he is fighting here for the truth. "Word and honor that's all a man has" - says Deki. He showed us the trophy explosive bullets: these deadly and prohibited by international conventions "goods" are gladly used by the Ukrainian forces.
I was very happy that this time I was able to meet Alexander Kofman, Minister of Foreign Affairs,and personally thank him for the support of our resource in DPR. Mr. Kofman is not only one of the top public officials of the Donetsk Republic but also a great patriot of his city who shared the whole journey of creating of the new state. With a hunting shotgun in his hands he stood up to defend one of the first checkpoints in 2014.
Saying goodbye, Alexander gave me a special Donetsk souvenir: forged rose made from fragments of the shells which fell on Donetsk. I will keep it as a memory of this amazing city and people who are able to create a work of art from a deadly piece of steel.
On the last day of my stay in DPR, we went to visitone of the schoolsin the Kirovsky district of Donetsk. Interesting fact is that its senior pupils are the members of the public movement "Young Republic" and are learning here the basics of the student government. It was real touching to see pupils with St. George ribbons on their sparkling white shirts lined up for our arrival. To my great surprise, children have prepared interesting presentations about their school and a whole kaleidoscope of events: contests, sport competitions and planting trees on the Alley of Glory.
Kirovsky district is far from safe. But even during the most severe attacks, children continued to come to school to pick up the homework. Children told me that they learned to identify by the sound what kind of projectile it was: from Grad or a mortar. Thebitterlessonsofthewar ...
Senior pupils were curious to know about their peers in the Netherlands: what kind of persons are they? I even got a little confused by the abundance of questions and most importantly by how clear and beautiful young talents were expressing their opinions. This, perhaps, is the key difference betweenthe pupils from Donetsk and Holland: self-sufficiency, versatile thinking and desire to change something.
Beautiful faces and a mixture of sincerity and unchildish seriousness in their eyes: that’s whom the adults are now fighting for under the DPR flag! As long as they have such wonderful followers, the Republic will live and continue to develop!
Olga de L., reporter of international edition Vox Populi Evo