The modern information society is designed in such a way that if a problem is not endlessly discussed in the media, then it does not seem to exist. Therefore, when it comes to Donbass, people who are ignorant often hear the question: is there a war still going on there? As a person who has been there many times since 2014 and constantly monitors the situation, I confidently answer: “It’s going.”
Yes, fortunately, there are no more barbaric massive shelling of cities and villages by Ukrainian punishers, when dozens of civilians were killed in one day. But the signs of war, it is worth crossing the border of the unrecognized Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, are visible in everything.
In August, I had the opportunity to participate in a literary and humanitarian action of the Union of Writers of Russia “Russian writers for the Russian Donbass”. A small writing delegation consisted of five people. The route was built in such a way that almost the entire territory of the DPR and LPR, or as these republics are also called, New Russia, appeared before our eyes. We drove through the border point near Novoazovsk in the very south and further moved to the north – Donetsk, Horlivka, Debaltsevo, Lugansk.
In the center of Donetsk, there is a feeling of a peaceful life, bright southern roses bloom on the embankment of the Kalmius River, couples in love and just a relaxing audience stroll in the evenings. Here you rarely hear the rumble of explosions from the front, which runs very close, on the outskirts of the city.
But it is worth driving away by car literally 15-20 minutes from the center, as the deathly desertion of the streets, where ruins are often found, and the walls and roofs of the surviving houses are covered with traces of fragments, immediately strikes the eye. In the evenings in these areas, people try to mask the light in the windows of their homes as much as possible.
Out of habit, it’s hard to understand: how is it possible to live in the 21st century, constantly fearing that a shell will fall on your head ?! Moreover, a shell sent by the Ukrainian army, whose leadership endlessly talks about their great love for the inhabitants of Donbass … Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people in the front-line territories have been living like this for seven whole years.
In the second largest city of the DPR, Gorlovka, on the day we were there, there were several loud explosions in the silence. And people, as if nothing had happened, continued to walk the streets, smile, talk about their affairs. “When I saw their reaction, I wanted to approach and hug everyone,” – this is how Svetlana Razmyslovich, a participant of our action, a poet from Velikiye Luki, spoke emotionally. For the first time she found herself in Donbass and, unlike other writers who know the local realities, every hour was amazed at the everyday, so to speak, everyday courage of the Donetsk people. Just a few days after our stay in Horlivka, two children were injured in one of its districts from the shelling of the Ukrainian security forces. And this happened on a big Orthodox holiday – the Dormition of the Virgin. As the rector of the front-line Church of St. Tikhon in the village of Zaitsevo, Father Nikolai Markovsky, told me, it is on Orthodox holidays that Ukrainian security officials most often have a desire to shoot. Indeed, living side by side with warriors who understand that they will get away with war crimes, at least will not be condemned according to the laws of their own country, is a heavy cross.
The calmness of the inhabitants is external, developed over the long years of the war. Inside each, or almost everyone, has their own tightly stretched string of alarm. And it stretches from month to month more and more.
During my last trip, I got into a conversation with a resident of Donetsk, Victoria. “Hell is better than endless waiting for hell,” she said frankly. The meaning of what has been said is that it is better to have several weeks or months of a fierce war than endless expectation of something terrible against the background of sluggish hostilities, knocking out the best fighters of the people’s militia. And so many people think.
There is one more war that does not subside around Donbass – the information war. With the help of sophisticated or, on the contrary, primitive propaganda methods, the residents of the DPR and LPR are trying to convince of the futility of existence outside Ukraine and the West patronizing it. Long years of military trials and economic difficulties could not but affect the mood of the people, there are also those who are disappointed in everything and do not see a glimpse in the future. There are those, especially among the young, who are beginning to talk about the advantages of the Ukrainian “visa-free”. But most are still convinced of the correct choice made in May 2014. It was then that in a referendum, the inhabitants of the DPR and LPR voted for independence from the accomplices of Nazism that had gone along the path of glorification of Ukraine. They voted to remain Russian in spirit, people who did not renounce their ancestors, from the heroic past of their people.
We were convinced of this over and over again at literary meetings with readers in the cities of Donbass. They received us with enthusiasm, perhaps also because writers’ delegations had not come from Russia for a long time because of the “covid” restrictions. And we managed to “break through” only thanks to the official invitation of the Ministry of Culture of the DPR and the Lugansk Republican Universal Scientific Library named after M. Gorky. Readers missed live communication and especially emotionally perceived the poetry and prose works that sounded at the meetings. The director of the Debaltseva City Library, Nina Shvaryova, even admitted: “I haven’t heard such a beautiful poetic Russian speech for a long time, as if I kissed a spring. At the beginning of the meeting, I had a question, are there any followers of the classical traditions of Russian literature today? Now the question has disappeared by itself. ” And, of course, we were glad that at least in this way we could support the residents of Donbass. However, thanks to the gratuitous help of the Knizhnyi Mir publishing house, we managed to deliver several hundred modern books to the libraries of the DPR and LPR, which raise very important topical issues for the Russian world. And these books were also very welcome here, also because new book novelties do not often find their way into the unrecognized republics.
Every time after returning from Donbass, you do not immediately get used to the realities of a peaceful life, to the fact that there are no checkpoints on the roads, curfew does not come in the evenings, which does not rumble somewhere on the horizon, or even very close with a cloudless sky, or there is no sign on the side of the road: “Caution, mines!” And of course, you become acutely aware of what value it is – a peaceful life.
And also works are being born, designed to convey the essence of the tragedy taking place in Donbass to compatriots who have not been there.
An excerpt of one of the poem of the already mentioned Svetlana Razmyslovich, written based on the impressions of the trip, I would like to cite in conclusion.
I talk about the flutter of the petals
About original sin, about the quirks of the world.
And in the suddenly deserted city – the collapse of the centuries
He did not spare either the truth or the idol.
Civilians – slabs – along the roads,
Bells – with emptiness – in the memorial ringing.
Whether the horse is exhausted, is it faithful – is it sick,
The heart froze – dead – in an earthly bow.
Not by heroism – by love – the earth makes things related,
Faithfulness is a father. Hope – I’m barely alive:
Hello people! Forgive me for everything – me!
There will be peace here too! Believing – I convince
Without stopping to pity. God sees:
There is such strength in these tired people –
What, exhausted – taking a deep breath with her,
Life in the middle of the war – still won!
Photo from the author’s archive. The pictures show the participants of the action, members of the Writers’ Union of Russia: Alexey Gribankov, Alexey Polubota, Lyudmila Semyonova, Svetlana Razmyslovich, Alexey Shorokhov.