This was the same street I had seen on a video just a few days ago. One cannot help but wonder what makes that street so ghastly. Maybe even more then the destroyed houses was the ground. Only months and months later you realize what my subconscious had already long since figured out; a normal street has grass. But this one, deserted, allowed only for weed to grow wild in summer, leaving a comfortless picture of mud for winter and fall.
As far as trees were left, they were being cut. Where once the ground was flat, it now was heaped up in piles of dirt as long as the road stretched. This was the area around the Donetsk Sergej Prokovjev airport. The place where fighting was going on literally from the start of the civil war in Ukraine till the present day.
Nothing could speak to the conscious mind of this more, then the constant stream of destroyed houses. Some had a just few tiles of the roof blown off, others, less lucky, lost their entire roofs. Some had no more need for doors as the whole front of the house was blown up.
“This used to be a very popular place to live”, Graham Phillips explained. A lot of people build their houses here. Now, only some people could be seen here and there, some stray dogs, that was it. Sometimes one could see the writing “ЗДЕСЬ ЖИВУТ ЛЮДИ” – “Here live people”, which was a starch reminder of the time that the fighting was going on, while people were still in their houses. In rare cases, one could see that the writing was changed to say: “Here live people with guns.” More ironic still, was that on some places, one could see the writing, probably from before the war: “For sale.”
“Are there still people living here”, I asked Phillips. “Yeah, yeah”, he replied. “Can we visit some of them?” and after a pause, thinking, he responded, “ Probably yes”, and while driving to the house to visit, there was the strange sight of a man, building a snow man amidst the ruins, together with his daughter. They still lived here, but this despite their situation, the man waved at us and greeted us with a smile.
The family we visited, consisting of a pensioned miner and his mother, farther up on the road, was located at the edge of the village at the airport. One of their houses, seemingly, without too much damage, the other had an improvised roof made from United Nations relieve packages. Just a few weeks ago, this was one of the places where Patrick Lancaster delivered aid with his fund: aid packages, some food, including a chicken.
After having been shown the house, we were invited for tea. “Yes”, I said, just a quick cup of tea and on our way again. But this wasn’t The Netherlands, where one is lucky when one is offered a cookie to go with your coffee, this is the Russian world. While just having been explained that they need to come by from about 30 euro’s a month, we were served a dish called ‘Golodetsk.’ We silently knew that it was made from the same chicken Patrick brought these people just days before.
“There”, the pension’s mother pointed to area not under DNR control, “There are the fascists! The bandarites!” Without other income, the two were forced to keep living in their damaged house as moving was impossible. Only a month ago, their side house’s roof was blown off by a mortar, while it was just was repaired by another mortar strike some more time ago. It was the third time a mortar hit their residence. For the first one landed right in their kitchen, with the pensioned mineworker being right in the next room. The shell failed to explode.
A few days later, having just finished an interview, we were on our way back to our hotel. While all of a sudden, we heard a bolt of lightning. Yet there was no flash. The sound came from the airport, and all of the sudden, realizing what is was, the taste of Golodets was back in my mouth.