Today I have this piece by war reporter Alexander Kots. He set out to find human interest stories among the over 10,000 refugees who have crossed over from the Donbass region into Russia, just in the past couple of days.
Roughly half of these refugees are technically Russian citizens already, holding Russian passports. The other half being Ukrainian citizens who are resident in the Separatist-controlled Donetsk Peoples Republic (DPR) and Luhansk Peoples Republic (LPR).
The order (issued by the leaders of those republics) to evacuate women, children, and elderly was given this past Thursday, after the Ukrainian army opened massive artillery barrages on the line of demarcation, threatening massive damage and loss of life to the residential communities.
Kots: “How many of you are Russian citizens?” I asked, of the people in one of the 30 buses, parked on the side of the road in the village of Red Landing, near Taganrog.
A full half of the people (in the bus) raise their hands. The other half admit that they are in the process of obtaining Russian passports. I see merry toddlers wearing bright outfits, who manage to find ways to have fun even in these circumstances. And here are their mamas, who worry their babies will freeze on the way to Russia.
And they have been waiting here for quite a long time, and nobody knows what is going to happen next, in regard to their resettlement. I see grandmothers who pop into the village store to buy sweets for their grandchildren.
These are exactly the same kind of people whom you know intimately and see every day. But, at the same time, these people have lived through experiences which you would not wish upon anyone.
Natalia Lapadina: I am accompanying some orphan children from Gorlovka, sixteen teenagers. Yes, I am their chaperone. And I also have my own child with me. We were given literally 15-20 minutes to get our things together, to collect the children, to pack. And then we left. I have all of their documentation here, every folder contains an individual life. This is all they have. Everything else was taken away from them.
Kots asks her what she hopes for, how she thinks this will end.
Natalia: In peace, we hope. We hope that we will soon be able to return home. The children really want to go home. They want it so much! The whole time we have been travelling, they keep saying, “We want to go home, we want to go home!”
Darya (from the other bus): In 2014 we were in Donetsk the whole time. We cowered in our basements. We didn’t go anywhere. And now we suddenly decided to leave, because we are afraid they are really going to bomb the hell out of us this time. My mother decided to stay there, in Donetsk. I left with my daughter.
Kots: Your mom didn’t come?
Darya: No, she didn’t want to come. She stayed home. I have a neighbor, he decided to stay, as well.
A girl named Natalia speaks up: “My neighbor decided to stay, as well. He said he has two apartments, he’s not going anywhere. There are also some very elderly grandmothers [who decided to stay], I mean, where are they supposed to go? Very few of the really elderly are able to leave. There are also people who have to stay, to take care of crippled people, people who can’t walk, they’re not going to just leave them behind.”
Kots: Did you leave with a heavy heart?
Natalia: Of course. What will we be returning to? What will we find when we get back? It’s possible we will find there is nothing left. No job, No apartment, no home…
At the border point just before Novo-Azovsk, Emergency Services have opened a small camp. There are not a lot of refugees here at any given moment. People just arrive here for a temporary stay in heated tents. After which, in an organized fashion they are loaded onto buses and distributed among children’s summer campgrounds and tourist spas. An elderly but tough-looking man, calling himself Oleg from Komsomolsk, approaches us. He says that he saw us back in 2014 on the road somewhere during that war.
Oleg: Let me share with you my honest opinion. This is how it should end, realistically. Do you understand? It’s not enough to chase them away. We chased them away in 2014, in some places plus or minus, a little on the plus side. But yesterday I was reading some of their commentaries, from the Ukraine. Along the lines of, they are chasing us away. This is simply intolerable. We have been waiting forever for this to end, and it never does.
Kots: What do you want to see happen?
Oleg: I want [Russia] to just take us in. I was born and grew up in Komsomolsk. We didn’t even know where the border was, with Russia. [It didn’t matter.] I served [in the army] at a time when Leningrad was still called Leningrad. I lived there for five years.
We were one nation. Without borders. We married each other. We were interconnected [in so many ways]. And then, all of sudden: They mark a border and separate us. And then, after a certain amount of time, we started to realize that the border really does exist. And then things just started getting worse and worse, do you understand?
And now, what we have now? It’s been eight years. All of our plans [for the future] have been destroyed. Everyone’s plans. People are just worn out. They have no money, no job. And now it’s starting all over again, just like Groundhog Day. In other words, everything is blowing up, all over again, and you don’t know where the next bomb will explode. It must be very scary for the children.
Kots: You’re not afraid for yourself?
Oleg: The thing that I fear the most, is if they declare another truce and freeze the conflict again. Freeze it, until the next time around. That’s what I fear the most. I would rather see a horrible end to this, than horror without end.