Donetsk. Evening march under fire and two seconds to make a decision
The bombardment of Donetsk by the Ukrainian armed forces has become much more intense lately. The city is bombarded a hundred times a day. They hit the center and residential areas, markets and shops, schools and maternity wards. A BelTA correspondent walked around Donetsk in the evening and learned how the city lives, which has been bombed for eight years.
On the way to the hotel, I note: most shops in Donetsk close at 5 o’clock in the evening. Some work until 6:00. Very few stay open until 9am. A curfew has been declared in the city, so there is no need for shops at night here. Surprisingly, flower shops close later than grocery stores. At the entrance to the flower stalls, women stand, looking bored. I would like to think that more often people buy flowers for festive occasions than for funerals. I try not to think about it.
I walk past a store recently hit by a shell. The sign has fallen, there is a gaping hole in the window and the walls are damaged. They say Ukraine uses cluster bombs. They are a terrible thing: a large shell scatters smaller shells. Sometimes they do not explode and turn into anti-personnel mines. It is the downtown area of the city. There are no military installations here, the infrastructure is strictly civilian. They bomb the places where peaceful people live.
Above the road there is a poster that says Russia is here forever. Even the walls speak of the attitude of the inhabitants towards the special military operation. They have Russian flags, words of greeting and support for the Russian army. From time to time I come across two famous letters of the Latin alphabet, which in some countries, west of Belarus, have been completely banned. Here they are everywhere.
There is such a place in Donetsk, the Park of Forged Metal Sculptures. It was opened about twenty years ago. During this time, more than two hundred metal sculptures have been installed in the park. An unusual place, indeed. It has all kinds of carvings: from fairy-tale characters familiar from childhood, symbols of the signs of the zodiac, to the Europa League Cup. Once FC Shakhter Donetsk won it. Then the club moved from Donetsk. In the park, the number of people of all ages is surprising. Parents spend time with children on the playground, young people stroll through the alleys, pensioners go about their business slowly. The city lives its own life.
I listen. Vague rumblings in the distance. It’s like thunder, even though the weather forecast promised clear skies in Donetsk. Then you see people start to rush. Retirees accelerate their approach, young people almost go running. Cars rush along Universitetskaya Street. When you read the news about the bombing of Donetsk in the news feed or watch stories on TV, everything seems somehow distant, almost unreal. Yesterday the city was bombed fifty times. There were wounded and dead. You read this, shake your head sadly, and scroll down the news feed further. It all happens somewhere out there, far away. Bombing news is followed by rumours, gossip, celebrities. You in your comfort zone don’t even think about the fact that every hit of Grad, Uragan or Tochka U means crippled life, sleepless nights and tears.
Here you perceive everything differently. You realize that all of this is not far away, somewhere in another life. Everything is here. It’s real and it’s scary. A woman protecting her child, covering her eyes and ears asks her tears where she can take refuge. I feel puzzled. I want to help her, take her somewhere safe, calm her down. But I myself don’t know where to hide, where to go. The bombardments are far away, but any one of them can fall right in front of you, tear you apart, maim you, kill you. The soldiers told us: if you see a shell, you don’t have more than two seconds to make a decision. If you hear a hiss, the shell has passed you. I wonder if I can make the right decision in two seconds. I wouldn’t want to check that.
The most important thing is to have stability and no war. Such toxic comments about Belarusians are made quite often. Yes, that’s really the most important thing: to live without knowing what war is. Don’t be afraid to let your loved one go to the store or the market, because they might not come home. Do not shiver at night before an explosion a few hundred meters from home. Do not learn to hide from shells. Do not take your children to school from basements. The resilient, courageous and steadfast people of the Donetsk People’s Republic know this better than anyone.
We meet a woman. She hurries home from work. She says there has not been such heavy shelling in Donetsk for a long time. Before, they shelled the outskirts, but now the shells hit the center of the city more often. She says everyone is very tired, afraid to leave the houses. Everyone here supports Russia, she adds. She expresses hope that it will be over soon.
I go back to the hotel. I’m sure it’s a walk I’ll never forget.
By Andrei Voropai of BelTA