This very touching piece was sent to me, a New Yorker resident, by a simple Ukrainian woman by the name Anna Lyashenko-Gracheva. It’s honest as a tear, and is very different from hysterics of the ladies on different TV channels. A new word has appeared in Ukrainians’ everyday vocabulary–‘ATO’, meaning ‘Zone of Anti-Terror Operation’. Anna lives in that zone. She fears for her son and husband, for them not to be forced into the militia of the ‘Novorossia’. She fears for her cat and shepherd dog, who are horrified by the rumbling of the missiles. She lives in a city already freed from separatists, and honestly tells what’s happening in her native land. At least that is her personal vision and opinion. She tells it calmly. God forbid us to live through such things. So how can these women live now?
Ilya Galak, Citizens Magazine
Letter from Ukrainian fight zone
By Anna Lyashenko – Gracheva
Translated by Alex Yakubson
I live in the city of Lisichanks, of Luhansk province. Often I am asked, how do we live these days here in the Donbas, who’s fighting whom, and what for? Well, Donbas is a unified energy-producing coal basin. It’s made up by two provinces of Ukraine, those of Luhansk and Donetsk. And to answer other questions, we need to go back to the events of last December in Kiev, often referred to as ‘Maidan’.
During half a year Ukraine was preparing to enter European Union (correction by translator: not really to enter EU, but to apply for associated membership), and then over one night our former government suddenly reversed the course and refused to sign the treaty with EU. Angered youth started to gather at ‘Maidan’ (Kiev’s central square). On the government’s order, they were beaten up, after which new ‘Maidan’–a large protest–formed. To support the activists, people from all parts of the country started to flow into the capital.
Opportunity to disband the protest always existed, but for some reason president Yanukovich for three months passed it up. Then on February 22, he gave order to physically liquidate the protesters. About one hundred people died. And while all of Ukraine’s attention was fixed on the bloodbath in Kiev, the president transferred the nation’s entire treasury to Russia, and himself escaped there.
I was always baffled as to how could people elect a president someone who was jailed twice, for theft and robbery!
Then, annexation of Crimea happened. Crimea’s a very beautiful place, but to get there from Russia is only possible by the sea. So Russian government decided to also acquire the South-Eastern part of Ukraine, including Harkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zaporizhya, Herson provinces–for land access to Crimea. Everywhere riots started, chaos, the country was essentially powerless; dollar grew against national currency, life became cheaper (note from translator: it’s unclear what the author meant by ‘cheaper’), unemployment rampant.
Former supporters of Yanukovych, from the Party of Regions, began to completely plunder our region and obstruct upcoming presidential election. And this is when the “Donetsk’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republics’ were born–both financed by Russia. The ranks of these republics (from translator: the author probably means the republics’ militias) were filled with the unemployed, being paid 250 hryvnas(Ukrainian national currency), drug addicts, former criminals.
In response to early presidential election, the ‘republics’ held their referendums on joining Russia. Who voted at those referendums, i don’t know, yet somehow it gave 85% ‘yes’ vote. Presidential election in our town wasn’t held, the town was suddenly filled with armed people.
And this is how we split into those FOR UKRAINE and AGAINST IT.
Russia stared to massively supply arms, Ukraine got flooded by some Chechens, some Cossacks from Rostov, who in turn organized some kinds of brigades of militiamen, separatists and terrorists. Work was also done with members of law enforcement, intelligence, military and civilian authorities.
At first unknown men simply came into police precincts and took away their weapons. And imagine, these scumbags readily gave it up! Militias took their weapons, and even staged their headquarters in the precincts. Local powers simply vanished; police were nowhere to be seen. Militias confiscated transport at large factories, coal mines etc., laid a tribute–they demanded several million hryvnas a month(from translator: unclear, demanded from whom).
Those enterprises that refused their demands, were shelled and set on fire. In this way, they destroyed gas stations belonging to Rinat Akhmetov(Donbas’s richest man), shelled a mine where my son worked. Separatists confiscated cars they liked, from regular citizens. In Lisichanks, everyone switched to old clunkers, as all modern cars were hidden somewhere. Separatists demanded that taxes be not sent to Kiev, but rather to them. They also robbed ATMs, destroyed banks. That’s why our banks and post offices were shut down. After separatists took over treasury, our pensions and salaries were suspended. i am extremely thankful to my classmates and college friends, who helped and still help me at this hard time, and donated everyone as much as they could.
After presidential election, the new government of Ukraine decided to start the Anti-Terror Operation(ATO) in Donbas (correction: it was started before election, during interim presidency of Turchinov). So we wound up inside the ATO’s area. Into this zone were sent troops of Ukraine’s National Guard and volunteer battalions.
But while National Guard were on their way, the separatists set up many checkpoints, dug trenches. They forced to dig trenches our local men, those who refused were beaten. My son left Lisichanks in June and went to Zaporizhya to live with my parents. There was a great threat of him being drafted into the militia.
Meanwhile fighting started for Slaviansk and Kramatorsk. Supply of weaponry from Russia increased. The role of Chechens was as follows: they’d organize a brigade, train the terrorists, and then exactly two days before the fighting, left for other towns.
So, as the National Guard advanced, Chechens left Lisichansk, while the militia started to meticulously destroy the city. They bombed it with mortar that was being shipped from one place to another; shot with cannons, GRADs. They destroyed substations, gas pipe, springs and other water sources. Of four bridges over the river Seversky Donets in our city, three have been blown up. After this destruction of the city, we lived two weeks without water, light and gas. We had no connection with outside world. People boiled food on campfires outside their houses. Imagine: 9-story building without utilities; campfires in all courtyards.
During attacks many people hid in bomb shelters, basements, vaults. Many died, some on the way to shelters and some even in shelters. The day National Guard entered the city, a Green Corridor was announced, for all those who managed to leave the ATO zone. But vile militia snipers shot at a bus with refugees (there were fatalities). My coworker’s husband died instantly, when their car was shot at; she was wounded. National Guard dragged their car over the bridge and gave her medical aid.
My husband and I were too scared to leave the city, out of fear of marauders. Plus, we have a shepherd dog and a cat–where would we put them? The city’s right now full of homeless animals, whose owners left and haven’t returned yet. During bombings, it was extremely scary: my cat, after National Guard destroyed the GRAD launcher that was one kilometer away from our house, literally flew into a window, dashed through kitchen, lobby, bedroom–and hid in a closet. You can’t imagine the rumble: our roof nearly fell! I myself was running around the house, desperately seeking a safe spot. Shrapnel flew all over the roof and the court. My son’s apartment’s windows on the 8th floor, were all broken. This is all horrible to recall, moreover to live through.
We got many dead and wounded. Many militiamen also died. It’s horrifying how their own simply covered them with some earth, or just left to lay in trenches.
After militia left the city, National Guard and volunteers took over their bases. They left so much arms, food and even medications–all Russian-produced. Soldiers gave all these away to the local population. They also provided bread–i even dried a piece up, for memories. At this point bakeries were closed, and there was no bread in the city. The most interesting thing is, the very next day after liberation of Lisichansk, law enforcement and local authorities appeared again, as if out of a thin air! We are asking them: where were you all this time from May to August? Although, the very top of them all gave escaped to Russia, since here in Ukraine they’d be subject to up to 8 years of prison.
And just as we started to get back to normal life, there appears a chance that this horror will return. I so don’t want the war to come back to Lisichansk! What does this Russia want from us?!
Almost a month has gone since the liberation of Lisichansk, but the shots still ring at night. They’re to this day hunting out militiamen and separatists. I want peaceful life so bad!
@ Citizens Magazine
@ Citizens Magazine