I couldn’t sleep. It’s been a year since the beginning of unrest in Ukraine and now, during this warm and fuzzy Christmas time, the life stories of people living in Donbas, Eastern Ukraine, seem all the more unreal. I wanted to tell you what I think, tell you about them. I wanted to add a picture to this post, a photo of my home town how it is now, and couldn’t. They’re just too hard for me to look at.
I have always considered myself a Ukrainian, although I lived in the Eastern Ukraine, Russian is my native language and I have relatives in Russia. My husband was born in Moscow and considers himself a Russian, although he also has relatives in Ukraine. Who are our kids? Russian or Ukrainian? One and the same. That is why it is my personal choice not to discuss who is right and who is wrong.
I left my home town ages ago, but I am still in close contact with my friends and relatives there. Some of them supported Maidan and the new government, some liked a confederation idea, none of them wanted a separate ‘democratic republic’. But all of them had their lives broken and smashed and all of them would have to build up again on the wasteland that remains. I just didn’t want these people to be overlooked or forgotten.
My grandfather came East from his home village in the North of Ukraine. He spoke Ukrainian at home, but got used to speaking Russian in this region. He came to work as a coal miner and finished his career as a mayor of his new home town. By now almost all of his neighbours have fled. My father wanted to arrange for him and his wife to leave as well, but they didn’t want to. It’s hard for people to uproot at this age. They didn’t receive their pensions in a while now, relying on my dad’s help. They have water at home. Only a couple of times a week. Otherwise, everything’s good, my granddad’s saying.
My godmother is a mom to three sons. The eldest going to college, the second one – to junior school and the youngest one just turned two. They didn’t want to leave home, but when the bombings came so close that houses on the next street were destroyed, she threw whatever caught her eye in a suitcase and fled with the kids to their relatives in Russia, just across the border. Her husband stayed behind – none of their elderly parents wanted to leave and he decided to stay with them. Soon after my godmother left, the bombings hit the town hard and there was no phone or internet connection at all, no way for her to reach her husband or her parents for several weeks in a row. They were all well and alive, thank God. After the ceasefire, he picked them up and brought home. Now he found a job, which pays precious little, she also has a job – she’s a teacher of English. Schools are open, kids need to study, but there’s no money, so teachers work for free. Now she spends her nights listening to the sound of artillery just outside the city, not being able to fall asleep, not knowing what to do.
A very good friend of ours is a doctor. She’s teaching in a medical university in English for foreign students. The university opened again after the ceasefire, there’re still some students left, but there’s no money. She continues working now for food ration. Her son is a doctor as well. The hospital, where he worked, was damaged in bombings and closed. He was offered a job in a hospital in another town in that region. He went there alone, leaving his wife and a small daughter at home. Now he works there, but he cannot get home – the road has become too dangerous to travel.
My sister’s former school teacher left town with two small kids during the worst of it, going to live with some relatives. Her husband stayed behind to protect their home from looters. Not sure, though, how he was supposed to protect it – he’s a musician and so totally not an aggressive person that I don’t know what he was supposed to do, if the looters did come. He went out to a supermarket one day and a bomb splinter hit him, killing on the spot.
An old school friend of mine was planning a beautiful wedding for August, when all of this started. She worked in a large corporation and her fiancé owned a company. They had to flee the city and they did so just in time. They rented a flat in Kiev, had a quiet civil wedding, just the two of them, and started to look for jobs. She’s expecting a baby.
There’re many more stories, many more people who suddenly found themselves in a bad war movie. I am just extremely grateful that my parents and sister moved away a couple of years ago, before all of this started. But I still call those remaining often, hoping to hear some good news.
Puts everything into perspective, doesn’t it? So, if all of your loved ones are healthy and if you leave in a peaceful place – just thank God and be happy, without being miserable about everyday troubles. I hope, this story would make you look around and count your blessings. And maybe some of you would send a prayer, or good thoughts, for those, who don’t have much to count.