A FEW HUNDRED METERS FROM THE ENEMY. A REPORTAGE FROM THE FRONT LINE NEAR DONETSK. (PHOTOS)

Volodymyr Markevych was on the observation post in one of the positions of the front line not far from Novomykhailivka. He, a military doctor, had just turned 48 years old. There was one more anniversary to celebrate in a month: a year of his service in the 24th separate mechanical brigade named after King Danylo. But on that day, 23 March, there was a shelling of the position by a sniper of the enemy. The commander ordered to hide in a shelter. Volodymyr did not have time to do it as a 12,7mm bullet hit him. There is his mother left behind in his native Lviv region and also a 22- year-old son Kyrylo.

Only a few weeks have passed since that tragic day. But it is war, and Volodymyr’s brothers in arms continue performing their military duties in this position.

“Sabotage-reconnaissance groups of the enemy move through areas covered with trees at night”

A few hundred kilometers from the front line it may seem that it goes along the same positions. But to see how the Ukrainian Army has actually moved forward during five years of the war, one can check the distance between the old and the new positions.

We are going along very bad roads, along the fields of Donetsk oblast. Farmers have started to work in some fields, but some fields are neglected and covered with dry grass. It means they are still mined. Abandoned blindages and partly ruined trenches can also be seen.

We arrive to a position. Vika, a short girl, is accompanying us. She is 18 years old, she is a mechanic and has just joined the Army. She jokes that when men learn about her profession, they are always very surprised.

– Have your relatives supported your decision to join the Army?

– If you do not mind I will not repeat what they have said, - Vika laughs. - But they have got used to it by now.

We are approaching the position. Soldiers are always busy here: some are carrying out engineering works to improve security of the servicemen, some are chopping firewood, some are cooking, some are resting in the blindage before or after the watch. The cats are taking a nap in the first spring sun.

- So, you have elected... – a serviceman with a nickname “Uncle Koliya” says. (He means the recent president elections in the country - the Author).

He lights up a cigarette and reads news in the Facebook. Uncle Koliya is on the front since summer 2014. At first he served in “Aidar” battalion, now in the 24th brigade. His greatest happiness and motivation as he explains is to ensure sharing of his knowledge and saving of soldiers’ life.

– I hoped I would rest from these trash news at least here, on the front line, - I say.

– But we also follow the news, how can we not?

The servicemen are highly interested in news from the rear: they use a slow internet or watch TV. But in fact they do not have much time for it. After a short talk Uncle Koliya and Bohdan, a 23-year-old commander of the squadron will start inspecting the positions and will return only in the evening. And they go through this routine a few times a day.

The distance to the enemy is very short:  it is only a few hundred meters from some positions. Snipers are very active here, and it happens that the militants try to approach the positions of the Ukrainian Army.

– In the majority of cases they approach through areas covered with trees at night. But now it is quiet, – Bohdan says. – Recently one person from my squadron has been killed in this position during a shelling with small arms. I commanded to hide into a shelter, but… Well, we revenged on them accordingly. We listen to talks of the enemy on the radio transmitter. Not a long time ago two militants have been killed by the battalion situated not far from here.

The Ukrainian servicemen know who is located opposite their positions. They are Russians, the 3rd territory battalion of the 100th brigade.

– Different people are there. There were special operations forces, and we always know, when the professionals work. There were Georgians and Chechens. Groups of snipers also come, - the officer says.

After these words I have got a nasty feeling that at this very moment I am being watched through a scope from behind trees or bushes.

Not far from the blindages which are in use there is a burned and partly ruined one. It is not clear when, why and during whose rotation it was burned. The soldiers have made an improvised sports ground on this place: a pull up bar made of thick branches and a barbell made of plastic bottles.

– You are lucky the mud has dried. A few weeks ago there was a real  swamp here, – a serviceman says. He accompanies us, when we “examine” old observation posts of the position.

The young boy says that during his service he has got acquainted with a girl and is going to marry her soon. It seems that for the first time during our talk he starts smiling.

“Here they need me more”

We come to another position. A middle aged serviceman is chopping firewood. He is taking us “on an excursion” through trenches to the kitchen. It is very hot in a small room as the cook has just finished preparing dinner and is smoking outside. Coffee is the first thing which is offered to guests and brothers in arms on the front line. We are waiting for half an hour for an old kettle to boil on a wood-burning stove.

If you follow the trenches further, you can see more “rooms”. The young women are drinking tea in one of them. The room contains a metal stove for heating, a table and wooden benches.

Olena is a medic. She is from Luhansk region. In 2014 her town was occupied. Olena was a nurse at children’s hospital and was providing medical aid to servicemen of the 24th separate mechanical brigade in her free time. Finally, she decided to sign a contract with the brigade.

– Here they need me more. No matter that I worked at children’s hospital,  servicemen are like small children. It was even easier with children, here I have to persuade them to be treated, – she laughs. – Luckily, I have not had severely wounded. We have had a person killed recently, you know it… But there was no chance of saving him…

Olena has a son and parents who are waiting for her at home. Her son is extremely proud of his mother, when she comes home wearing a military uniform.

Two more girls are listening to our talk very attentively. Vika, a mechanic and Zhanna, an assistant of grenade launcher operator. This rotation is the second one for Zhanna.

– Many of my friends have been killed in the war, so I decided to go, help the others and test myself. Nobody could stop me from doing it. I feel better here. We do not have a division of man-woman, we help each other in everything, – Zhanna says.

– You have been participating in the war for two years already. Were you very scared sometimes? – I ask.

Zhanna thinks for a while.

– It is scary when a mother is falling to the ground, when the children are crying, – the woman replies. – You do not think of anything during a combat. Maybe it is because of adrenalin. And you know, we can shoot out of any weaponry.

Bohdan and Uncle Koliya will return to trenches when the sun starts to set down. We will talk about the war and military operations, how it is to be a young commander of older servicemen and what to do with the fact that even 50 kilometers from the front line people think there is no war.

While drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes Bohdan will tell us till midnight funny stories from his life when he had studied at the military academy and had joined the Army. Then he would take us to his blindage and show wooden bunk beds and free sleeping bags. He will go to have a nap late at night, but before that he will listen to continuously working radio transmitter and reply to clinks of a military field telephone.

“Crocodile”, from which the militants shooted

The next morning we go to another position, where one more squadron of the brigade is located. Upon approaching it we see big slag heaps, which are typical for Donbas scenery. They have become dangerous long ago, because the militants open fire from there.

“This slag heap is called “Crocodile”, – Oleksandr, a press officer explains. – “The militants were constantly shooting  at our servicemen from there with anti-tank missile complexes, machine guns, grenade launchers and mortars. Recently their positions have been destroyed by our soldiers.

The militants considered “Crocodile” “the defence base of Donetsk from the west” and boasted in their propaganda resources that from this slag heap “both the road of Krasnogorivka-Mariinka and the villages are being controlled”.

To get to the positions, where Oleksandr, the commander of the squadron is, it is necessary to move quickly along an open locality, a field. There are many deformed electric grid pillars, which have been damaged during combats.

Civil cars are going by the positions of the servicemen, because a Ukrainian checkpoint is situated not far from this place. There is a crowd waiting to enter from the occupied territory. Only two kilometers away from here people live according  to regulations established by the militants. If a car stays too long near the positions, the servicemen urge it to leave, because through the car’s window the passengers can take pictures of our fortifications and pass them to the enemy.

– They do not shoot during the daytime, because we close the checkpoint immediately, and it a disadvantage for the enemy, - Oleksandr says. - But  snipers can shoot during the daytime, that is why it is always necessary to move through the trenches. Previously the militants opened fire at night. Now our servicemen has blocked the sector, where they were shooting from.

The young officer is taking us through the trenches. He says it is very important to talk to the servicemen every day and remind them to try to preserve their lives.

-People get used to anything. When the enemy shoots, the servicemen are very well-organised, however, when it is quiet, they start to be relaxed and the enemy can benefit from it, – Oleksandr explains.

We come to a truck “Ural”, which will take us to the headquarters. In a week the officer will write: “We have wounded in our position”.

“DOCTORS AND MY WIFE RETURNED ME FROM THE OTHER WORLD.” A MONOLOGUE OF IHOR HORDIYCHUK, A HERO OF UKRAINE.

He walks along the corridor of Traumatological Department of the Central Military Hospital. He makes every step very carefully, bending towards a special support. He smiles and repeats very quietly like a mantra: “Everything is OK, everything is OK”. 

Ihor Hordiychuk, a Major General, a Hero of Ukraine is literally a legend. He asked to be sent to the front line in the hottest months of 2014 and left his cosy study of the Deputy Head of Hetman Petro Sahaidachnyi National Army Academy in Lviv for a real hell - Savur Mohyla (a strategic height located about 5 km from the border between Ukraine and Russia).  He was severely wounded during the combats there. It was a miracle that he had been found among the dead and that he had been saved. He has been working hard every day to restore himself for more than four years and now he walks by himself in the hospital to visit his twice younger friend, whom he has got to know during the war. 

“Come Back Alive” Fund has spoken with Major General Hordiychuk about love and about how it is to be stronger than life and convince yourself, when there is a great desire to go the front line, but you know that you have already had your last combat there. 

“Immaculate shoulder marks – immaculate conscience”

”Doctors and my wife returned mе from the other world. You ask me about this famous picture, where she is holding me from my back. In fact, she was not holding me, but only supporting, because after I had been wounded, my body sometimes bends to one side. My wife is everything for me. My moral and mental restoration is her personal victory. I was also lucky to go for a long rehabilitation to the USA. Though our medicine has been developing, they still know more about military rehabilitation there. American doctors asked my wife not to help me. And probably to accept “let him do it by himself” was the most difficult for her. 

Photo: Facebook

By the way, my wife is a serviceman: a senior soldier, a contractor, an operator. Now she works at the communication centre of the Headquarters. Once she wanted to be an officer, but I told her: “Immaculate shoulder marks - immaculate conscience”. Soldiers are responsible only for themselves and it is much easier morally.

She accompanies me everywhere and worries when I spend long hours at work. I love her, our relations are superb. There have been different situations during years of living together. Once I told her a lie. When I was a commander of one of the special purpose regiments, all servicemen had a programme of jumping with parachute. My wife had to jump too and she was very scared. I decided that she would have no privileges among the others and asked her whether she had ever seen town of Khmelnytskyy from the height of aerial view. She replied “no” and said she would like to do it if there was an opportunity. I was very nervous the night before thinking that she would understand everything and refuse. But the truth was revealed on the spot and as she had already been instructed and there was no way out, we both jumped. Later my wife completed the whole programme on jumping with parachute.

“My biggest problem now is keeping a balance”

My rehabilitation has been still in progress after I was wounded in 2014. For example, I ran and played football before that. Now I tell myself that I still run and play football conditionally. I understand that if we take 100%, now I have covered approximately 0,001%, but I move on. I check myself every month, doctors examine me every two months: what I have managed to achieve, what the progress of restoration is. The majority which was lost, might be restored within some period of time. And my wife and I aim if not 100% restoration, then the fullest possible. We set the most complicated tasks and move towards them gradually: I have done this during a month, and I have done that during a few months. I do not substitute anything, I just move towards my goal. For example, to play football like before, I need to make let us say a million steps. Now I have made 18,5 thousand steps, but I continue moving towards the set goal.

I can speak English and I remember when I was taken to the USA I started telling doctors that I had maximum 2 months for restoration. I told them that my brothers in arms were waiting for me and I had to hurry. Servicemen with whom I had studied in the USA previously, visited me and told me a very important thing at that moment: “Yes, both your brothers in arms and Ukraine need you. But they need you in a healthy state”.

My first goal was to stand out from the wheelchair. I literally made everything not to be in it. When I stopped using a wheelchair, I used one model of walkers, then the other, then started using sticks, then a smaller stick, and I am going to start using even a smaller stick soon. In a few years I will not use it at all. Doctors had said I would not be able to walk without orthosis, that I would be using it the whole life, but I took it off approximately in three months. It was a real victory! I have already said, that I like setting goals for myself. I have parted with wheelchair and orthosis, now it’s time to part with the stick and walk by myself.

My biggest problem now is keeping a balance. After I had been wounded, I lose it and fall to the left side. Rehabilitologists from the USA gave me some practical advice: for example, to look into a mirror when I am doing something. My wife reminds me about it, but when I am alone and do something, I may forget about it. When I was in the USA I did everything with my right arm and it worked, everything was easy. Then doctors started telling me they would tie my right arm, so that I could do everything with my left arm. And they really tied it.

There will be answers to all questions

Before the war I was honoured to be the Deputy Head of Hetman Petro Sahaidachnyi National Army Academy in LvivAfter I have been wounded, starting from 2016 I am the Head of Ivan Bohun Kyiv Military High School. We have experience of raising future officers, but unfortunately, we do not have a magic stick which could change the system immediately.

Previously the school was considered to be almost “school of re-education”, now we ask parents not to send their children here as punishment, but vice versa try to encourage them to come here. The situation is still far from the ideal one, but I am sure we will stop all negative traditions. More than half of the cadets study here of their free will. There is a group of children, whom to help is our duty: to accept them and educate. Even if they doubt, we still must accept them, because they are children of those who have been killed, or children who are orphans, or children belonging to socially vulnerable categories.

We had representatives of “gilded youth” in the most negative meaning of the word, and we were not allowed to dismiss them, because they had entered the school by themselves. But in 2016 I said: “If there is insolence, if the cadets come here by Porsche Cayenne, we will make them leave with shame through the checkpoint”. Of course there have been scandals during the time of my work there: there were problems with nutrition, or a company stole money from a cash machine, and a few of our cadets were involved. I felt pressure, but I dismissed them. The same was with some teachers. I personally checked all of them: I told those who were negligent that the best variant for them was to leave. Nobody wants to be dismissed due to a serious reason.

Photo: gazeta.ua

I think that everybody should consider his or her mistakes regardless position or rank. To listen, to make people understand is the mutual task of servicemen, civilians and local people in the war zone. It is the same at school: I say that all participants of the process should be listened to. As soon as you listen to all of them, you will make the most proper decision. I tell the journalists: “Please, come. I would appreciate it if you help me to reveal and to stop any violation, either related to nutrition or supplies. Everything we have at school is for the cadets. I am thankful to the journalists, because without them I might not know some things. I receive reports that everything is OK, but I am against it: I like to reveal problematic moments as soon as possible”.

I have certain experience including combat experience, and that is why I see the mission of Ivan Bohun Kyiv Military High School in being the first place for preparation of future Ukrainian officers. Though it goes much deeper. From the very beginning I tell the cadets: “Boys, our task is not only to raise you as officers. We would also like you to be real citizens, people with clear civil position, unlike in the Russian evil empire, our enemy. We would like you not to be stupid, we want you to understand why you should study this and do that”. In case my colleagues or I cannot answer some questions of the cadets, I say: ”Don’t worry. We will prepare better and will answer all these questions. I can answer some questions immediately, without preparation, however, there are questions, which require one or two days of preparation. But I will definitely answer them”. 

At the same time, I disagree with some positions of the Ministry of Education and Science: they constantly increase assessment requirements, but we are servicemen and it is difficult for us to follow these changes. Only one candidate out of seven receives golden medal at our school.

“I tell them to come any time and feel free to open the door. When they come, I offer them coffee, tea and sweets”

There are children who have been made to study at our school. They were taken here from a railway station or even from a scrap heap. We try to socialise them, and we have psychologists. There are also cadets whose parents have been killed during the war. For example, Danylo Makovey. His father was killed, he was with me in Savur Mohyla. I tell Danylo: “Can you be a leader among your fellows students?”. He replies: “Yes, I can”. I tell all cadets to come to me any time and feel free to open the door. When they come, I offer them coffee, tea and sweets”.

There is also Edik Palianskyi. His father was killed in Maidan (during the Revolution of Dignity - Author), now he is in Heavenly Hundred (Ukrainians refer such notion to more than 100 protesters killed during the Revolution of Dignity - Author). At first Edik was in Boyarka, where the younger cadets study and then he came here, now he studies in the 10th grade. I told him: “Come on, Edik. It’s time for you to start helping me here”.

It is painful to see, when children know for example that they cannot enter the higher educational institution they dream of, or they know that during the years of study they will not have enough money to be like other fellow students. In such situations I always explain that even it is not so easy, but you still want to achieve certain results, go step by step. And you will succeed! If a person knows that everybody has equal opportunities, he or she will move forward. I believe it is important to inspire people to move ahead.

Photo: hromadske.ua

There is a boy here, who entered the Military High School as a son of a military man. But then his father was killed and his mother died. Only motivating talks are not sufficient in such situations, a psychological support is needed. So we work with the services of social protection of children. And we want the guardians to know: a person may not achieve something in civil life, but he or she can definitely achieve it serving in the Armed Forces. Children of those killed have already suffered so much, that we do everything for them not to have difficulties in future.

All my days in the Military High School have been planned. Monday is a commander’s day. On Tuesday we work with units, teachers, also I can make appointments with journalists. On Wednesday I go to Boyarka and communicate with cadets and teachers there. On Thursday we involve parents. The smaller a child is, the bigger his or her parents’ influence is. Our cadets are between 13 and 17 years old. We work with their parents, because the result depends on them as well: which specialisation a cadet will choose, whether he or she decides to serve in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and so on.

“We all are servicemen wearing the same uniform” 

To raise an officer you need to have more than one day or one month or even more than one year. There should be three components to achieve success: bright head, education and experience. As for the experience it can even be a negative one. For example, we had lots of losses, which could had been prevented. Let us not hide anything. On the contrary, if there is a trouble, we need to talk about it. But in any negative situation all turn their heads to the commander. OK, you set a task, but check first if it can be completed, if it is an adequate one. When a soldier trusts his sergeant, and a sergeant trusts his commander, then they will achieve the highest success. If a soldier is cold and hungry, but he sees that  his commander is taking alcoholic beverages 200 meters away, then they will not achieve the required result.

Many commanders have been trained by now. And in 2014 there were a few of them. For example, I was not only a commander, but I had lots of administrative work. Though I had an experience of being a commander of  regiment for almost 5 years before that.

I was prepared: I studied abroad and knew what psychotropic weapons mean. All those, who have been calling Russia to come, are restricted. If they do not watch news before they go to sleep, they can’t sleep. And it can be accompanied with a bottle or two of horilka (a Ukrainian alcoholic beverage - Author). Their treatment is possible, but it takes much time. Let’s take Crimea. They said they wanted to die in Russia. And we say we want to live in Europe.

We need to work hard. Despite all difficulties, despite pain and despair we need to move forward. In fact, it only seems that “nothing depends on me”. It depends on everybody. Let’s take myself: yes, I understand that most probably I will not have any combat work any more. To tell you the truth, I would like to be invited to the zone of the Joint Forces Operation (war zone in Ukraine - Autor). My experience could definitely be useful there.

But I am here, at the Military High School. And on my personal level I do everything I can, so that Ukraine could be free, could have real officers and great people. Previously, I was the last one to leave the working place and the first one to come, now there are some changes after I have been wounded. But it does not demotivate me. At first I spent half a day for rehabilitation procedures. Now it takes me 2-3 hours a day. At the same time I always try to find some time to communicate with teachers and cadets of the Military High School. I try to keep the door open. We have here almost 20 people, who participated in combats. I tell the cadets: “You are cadets now, but  the majority of you will be officers and generals in future. We all are servicemen wearing the same uniform”.

“I know every position on the front line”: how staff of “Come back alive” fund work on the front

It has been a usual ritual for Andriy during the last two years to start an early morning with a cup of coffee, a cigarette, check if everything is in place and then go to the east.

We leave Kyiv when it is still dark.

– I would like to warn you that the next stop will be in Kharkiv, and after that in Bakhmut. We must reach our destination before it gets dark, – Andriy says. – And there are 700 kilometers to go.

At the same time one more car moves from the other part of Kyiv. Andriy Alisov, a volunteer, and Oleg Karpenko, Manager of Cooperation with Servicemen, a veteran of the war in Donbas, an officer in reserve, sit in it. The rotation of the servicemen is about to start in the east and the fund staff have a task to collect tens of night vision devices from a brigade, which is leaving the zone of the Joint Forces Operation, and pass them to the one, which will come to replace it. It is a thorough work, as none of the squadron can be left without “eyes” even for one day.

“My first commander was killed here”

“Skriabin” plays in the car for the second time already. Now and then we open the windows to let the cigarette smoke out.

– We got acquainted with Vitaliy Deynega (the founder of “Come Back Alive” Fund - Author) in Avdiivka. I was in reconnaissance, they brought devices and looked for somebody to be a contact person. Maybe, it was then that Vitaliy decided that I had to become a part of “Come Back Alive” Fund. When I was demobilized, they offered me to work with them. I am not a professional serviceman, but when the war started I went to the front, – Andriy says.

He patiently answers all my questions and tells stories about his service. The stories are funny and sad, some are confidential, so they cannot be shared for a long time.

Two other men call Andriy and say that the car they have been driving to pass to the servicemen broke on the road tens kilometers away from Poltava. We pick them up, go to a gas station, drink coffee and move further.

Kharkiv is ahead of us and then there is a road to Donetsk oblast. We cross the border between the two oblasts approximately at 3 p.m. We go through the renovated bridge, which was ruined in 2014 during combats between the Ukrainian Army and the militants. Halfly ruined houses standing by the road remind about those times.

– It is the bridge, which was ruined.  When I served in the Army, I had almost fell down from it. It was just after I had been wounded, – Andriy says.

– My first commander was killed here, – Oleg adds.

We arrive to Bakhmut when it’s getting dark. In Donbas evenings start earlier than in Kyiv. We go to a service station, collect the car, which has been repaired, reload a part of night vision devices and go into different directions: Oleg and I will stay overnight in one of the brigades in Bakhmut and Andriy will go further, to Karlivka. He will arrive there approximately at 8 p.m.

“You’d better not walk alone in the streets”

A map lays open on the table in the room of the commander of a brigade. His telephone rings every three minutes and he listens to the reports about the situation in the positions.

– Excuse me, – he tells us, listens and gives commands.

We will spend this night in one of the battalions of the brigade. The servicemen take us to the canteen, where we eat dinner and talk with them during a long time about their service and plans for the future. It is getting quiet only after 10 p.m in the long corridors with the rooms of the servicemen on both sides.

It is the second day of the trip. We get up at 7 o’clock in the morning, have breakfast and go to Luhansk oblast. We go along a broken and empty road covered with ice. Our eyes are blinded with bright sun. We come to Popasna approximately in an hour, then go to command and observation post of one of the brigades. We come there when the servicemen are having a meeting. Oleg talks with the commanders of battalions and I sit into a car of the press officer with other colleagues to go and meet with the servicemen in the positions.

In Zolote, where one of the units of the brigades is, the majority of the buildings have been ruined due to shells, their walls are heavily marked with splinters. But life still goes on here.

– Shame on you! Shame on you for filming it! Which channel do you represent? Tell me, which channel?! – a woman in her 50s cries at me, when she sees that I am making pictures of the abandoned houses.

– Stop it, let’s go, – another woman tries to calm her down.

I move slowly along the street. Heavy weaponry is heard from far away. I return back to the servicemen.

– What weaponry is it? – I ask.

They listen carefully. They no longer pay attention to such sounds.

– They are mortars. It is like this almost all the time. Do you see this house without a roof? They say it was a maternity house.

When they learn that I am a journalist of “Come Back Alive” Fund they start expressing their gratitude for night vision devices and other aid.

– It is people who help you.

– But they do it via you.

We talk until it gets darker outside.

– You’d better not walk alone in the streets. Enter the building, we will give you some tea.

I go to the medical room. There are boxes with medicines near the beds of soldiers. A doctor gives us coffee and says that luckily they do not have seriously wounded now, but winter traditionally is a peak period of colds. We talk about life and Oleg comes to see the commander of the battalion. They look into big screens, study maps and negotiate about the devices the battalion needs. Finally, they shake hands. We go further - to spend overnight with scouts. They live in one of the houses, which has been used by servicemen for quite a long time.

Anton and Kat’ka, two dogs meet us. Nobody knows their real names as the dogs lived there already when this brigade came. We are given some food and coffee (coffee and biscuits are the first things, which servicemen offer to the guests) and are shown sleeping places: iron beds with sleeping bags. There is no hot water in this building and we are taken to a mine’s bathroom. Tins with meat and condensed milk make the woman, who works there much kinder, she calls us “the new ones” and shows shower rooms.

We return back to the scouts in 40 minutes. Some of them polish their shoes, some watch serial, some take a nap, some cook soup in the kitchen. Everybody has his own story. One of the servicemen was born in Donetsk region and went to the war to stop the occupants from entering his city. The other serviceman is an experienced law enforcement officer from Kharkiv who saw a failed “Russian spring” in his native city and decided to go to the war not to allow its spread in the whole country. The servicemen say that despite the so-called “ceasefire”, the militants continue firing using mortars. We fall asleep hearing the shells to get up at 6 o’clock the following morning and go further.

“The main thing is not to come across the militants”

It is the third day of the trip. We have 20 minutes  in the morning to get ready and again, there are hours of going along bad roads of Luhansk region. It has been raining at night, and December snow is now covered with thin ice. We go to Popasna to meet one more commander of the battalion, but unfortunately, he does not have time, so we go to Donetsk region.

While leaving Popasna our car slips and gets into a ditch. We spend one hour there until “Ural” truck of the National Guard comes to rescue us.

– I would like you to appreciate the fact that while our car has been winding on the road and moving into the ditch, haven’t made any sound, – I tell Oleg.

– I would like you to appreciate the fact that I have not made any sound either, – he laughs back.

We arrive to Bakhmut to pass the night vision devices to a brigade. It is rather long and boring procedure, which Managers of Cooperation with Servicemen of the fund do each time. Though it is a strict system now, it was not always like that: the staff members of “Come Back Alive” Fund worked very hard to improve it. There are two copies of agreement for each given device. The document has a number of a night vision device and the name of a responsible person. It takes approximately one hour to fill in the papers.

As soon as they have been filled in and signed, we say goodbye and leave in the direction of Maiorsk. We will stay overnight there with our servicemen.

– The main thing now is not to come across the militants, – Oleg says.

– Very funny. We are in the car with black plates, you are wearing a uniform, and I have a journalist press-card in my pocket.

– Do not worry. At night it’s more likely that somebody from our side may open fire.

– I feel much better, – I smile.

We go to a gas station to drink coffee and eat a hotdog. Then we stop by the road to buy apples from an old woman sitting there and selling her stuff. It is already dark when we arrive to a place where we will spend this night. People there know and appreciate representatives of “Come Back Alive” Fund.

We speak till night in the kitchen until the moment the servicemen need to start a night watch. They schedule hours when they will watch the cameras and listen to the Ukrainian radio transmitters and radio transmitters of the enemy if there is a signal. In the morning we will go to the other brigade, along the road which the militants shoot, and then we will return back. During the whole evening of the fourth day of our trip a journalist from New Orlean has been talking with the servicemen, so we all go to bed later this time.

“I know every position on the front line”

It is the fifth day of our trip. We meet with Andriy at 7a.m. in Bakhmut. During an hour Managers of Cooperation with Servicemen deal with redistribution of night vision devices and discuss issues of device supply of the brigade.

– We will go now to our soldiers in Svitlodarsk salient, – Andriy says.

On our way there we are discussing yesterday’s shelling, as a result of which ten servicemen have been wounded.

– That is why I like going to Donbas, – Andriy says suddenly, watching trees covered with snow along the road, where other military cars go by. – Look, how beautiful it is around.

– Did you travel alone to the front line before that?

– I did.

– How did you manage to do everything by yourself?

– Well, when a brigade is going to leave a position, you come to the place and start collecting night vision devices. And you need to transfer them immediately to other servicemen. Besides, you need to check if all night vision devices work properly, maybe some of them need to be repaired. I stayed in Donbas for weeks. Or you come to the commanders of squadrons and start checking their platoon strongpoints and squadron strongpoints, then you consider how many night vision devices they need. There is no position on the front line which I do not know, because I have visited all of them.

We will travel along Svitlodarsk salient, will communicate with the servicemen, who know Andriy very well and meet him as if he is their best friend. Then we leave for Kostiantynivka. Oleg and I will get on a train to Kyiv and Andriy will stay in Donbas several more days to redistribute all devices.

– How many kilometers have you travelled during this trip? – I will ask him a few days later in the office.

– It was 1,5 thousand kilometers on the territory of the zone (zone of the Joint Forces Operation - Author), and approximately 3,5 thousand kilometers in total.

Andriy will go to Donbas again in two weeks.

Life in the sea. A reportage from “Yuriy Olefirenko”, the only midsize landingship in Ukraine. Photos

Yuriy Olefirenko was a real officer. Those who served with him say: “He belonged to “the old school” being strict and having certain principles: he could take part in combats together with ordinary soldiers and he was not afraid of bullets”. Four years ago, on 16 January 2015, the colonel Olefirenko was killed in Hranitnyi near Mariupol: during the mortar shelling he covered three soldiers with his body to save them, was severely wounded and died on the way to the hospital.

Olefirenko had been a pensioner for a few years already, when the war started in Donbas. He graduated from the faculty of Special Operations Forces of Riazan College of Airborne Troops of the Soviet Union, served in Afghanistan and devoted his entire life to the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces. During Afghan military campaigns the colonel studied Farsi and in 2007-2009 he returned to Kabul as a member of Lithuanian NATO contingent, where one of the tasks he performed was translation.

He was a very experienced officer who voluntarily came to the military commissariat when the war started, so he was appointed the commander of the 42nd battalion of the territory defence in 2014. Yuriy Borysovych was born in Kirovohrad oblast, so he headed the local battalion. The 42nd battalion like other units faced many difficulties that time, but Olefirenko tried very hard to train his subordinates as good as he could. Now, after his death, the soldiers say they have never had a better commander. After the combats for Savur-Mohyla the 1st rank captain headed the 73rd Naval Centre of Special Operations Forces. He was really happy because Special Operations Forces were the passion of his life.

On 2 July 2016 the only midsize landing ship in Ukraine, which  was previously called “Kirovohrad” was renamed after Yuriy Olefirenko. Representatives of “Come Back Alive” travelled  with the crew of this ship from Odesa to Ochakiv and the story below tells about people who have devoted their lives to sea.

Back to Ochakiv

Nobody is outside at 5 o’clock in the morning in Virmensky lane in Odesa. The seaport is situated not far from here, behind the railroad. There are many different ships there including those saved after the annexation of Crimea: in November 2018 “Nikopol” and “Berdiansk”, small armored artillery boats as well as  “Yany Kapu”, a raid tug, were captured by the Russian special operations forces in Crimea. “Yuriy Olefirenko”, a midsize landing ship, which was also captured, is standing now near the legendary “Hetman Sahaidachnyi” frigate.

The sailors call a period of staying in the port “being at anchor”: when they are in the open sea they get 70 UAH premium per day despite their rank, when they are “at anchor”, they just receive normal salary.

On the photo above: “Hetman Sahaidachnyi” Frigate.

“Yuriy Olefirenko” was designed in Poland. In spring 1973 it was called “SDK-137” and was present in the conflict zone of Israel and Egypt. The crew downed an Israeli fighter aircraft F-4 Phantom. It was the only time, when the ship participated in military actions. Since 1996 this landing vessel belongs to the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. During the illegal annexation of Crimea the Russians captured the ship, but they allowed to transport it to Odesa later. Now Ochakiv near Mykolayiv is the station of the permanent dislocation of “Yuriy Olefirenko”. The main task of the ship is transportation of Marines and their equipment.

Today the crew will travel from Odesa to Ochakiv to collect Marine paratroopers, take them to Dzharylhach island for training and return back to Ochakiv.

I go up the boarding ladder and see a bustle of the sailors on the stern: they are preparing to leave for sea and resemble a beehive. It is my first similar experience, but it is a routine for the crew members: while I am trying to grab things around not to slip and fall down, the sailors are running around the stern, paying no attention to vibration.

“Lady, do not obstruct the way, please. Stay aside, not to collide with anybody”, one of the sailors tells me with irritation and invites me to go to the cabins.

– A woman on board of a ship is a bad sign, isn’t it?

– No, it is a lucky sign. But please move aside and try not to fall down.

Life in the sea

There are almost 45 crew members. Most of them are the sailors who had to leave Crimea. Now the ship is under the command of 30-year-old Viacheslav Statsenko. The captain was born and grew up in Donetsk, married a girl from Crimea, so he knows personally what it means to lose everything.

All is new and interesting for me aboard  as I don’t have any relevant experience or education. The sailors are weighing a heavy anchor, one officer is regulating the ship’s movement rather loudly and with swearing. Koliya Sukhyna, 21-year-old senior sailor is trying very hard not to lose his vigilance standing on the captain’s bridge. He is responsible for “eyes” of “Yuriy Olefirenko” ship, he is a signalman.

“It is a visual observation. I report the watch officer about targets, air and naval vessels. In general, I guard”.

Koliya  says very enthusiastically that everybody who comes to serve on board of a ship, should perform a ritual: to drink some sea water trying not to stop and not to drop anything.

“You should do it in front of the crew!”, he says. “Just under the flag of the Naval Forces!”

Sukhyna loves sea, but before becoming a sailor and signing a contract, he studied to be an electrician-welder and worked in his hometown of Kaniv at the plant producing mustard. He checked the weight of ready packages.

“Then”, the sailor says, “it was time to serve in the army. I decided to sign a contract and try a career of a military man. Sea always attracted me, but I was not sure whether I would be accepted. I was lucky, and now I am here. And this ship is my second home. To be more precise, it is my first home: I can count the days away from the ship during this year and a half. I have learned a lot being a part of the Naval Forces. They use different words comparing to people ashore or representatives of other types of the Armed Forces. In general, everything is different when you are in the open sea. Sometimes it seems you are a different person here comparing to the one you are ashore”.

24-year-old senior lieutenant Serhiy Miziuk is also different from the one ashore. He says his father had served in the Naval Forces, but he died when Serhiy was less than 5 years old. In 2011 the future officer left his hometown of Kropyvnytsky (ex-Kirovohrad) for Crimea and entered  the Academy of the Naval Forces named after P.S. Nakhimov in Sevastopol. He was a third-year-student when the illegal annexation of Crimea took place.

“It all started with a continuous patrolling of the Academy’s territory. We could not imagine that the Russian Federation would go so far”.

The Russians promised the cadets high salaries and good ships, which would travel abroad. According to Serhiy’s words, almost half of his fellow students believed them. Some cadets turned to the side of the Russians on the Academy’s territory.

“Those who did not want to betray Ukraine”, the senior lieutenant says, “just left the line at that moment. I don’t understand now and I did not understand that time those who had not left with us”.

Bohdan Nebylytsia, the commander of a small armoured boat “Nikopol” and  Andriy Drach, an employee of the Security Service of Ukraine were also among the cadets, who like Miziuk, left the line. On 25 November last year Nebylytsia, Drach and 22 other Ukrainian sailors were captured by the Russian special operations forces in the Sea of Azov. When the annexation of Crimea began Serhiy, Bohdan and Andriy intentionally sang the anthem of Ukraine, pulled down three-coloured Russian flag and pulled up a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag in the Academy.

On the photo above: the sailors have made a gym on board of a midsize landing ship “Yuriy Olefirenko”.

Minziuk is responsible for the “heart of the ship” of “Yuriy Olefirenko”, as he is the commander of electro-mechanic combat unit. Serhiy and his subordinates start and maintain engines of the only midsize landing ship in Ukraine and make it in a way that it functions now and will continue functioning despite its age (the vessel will be 50 years old in 2021- the Author).

All photos are made by the Author.

«Mother, you are steel»

A story of Stalina Chubenko, mother of the youngest patriot killed during the undeclared war in Donbas. (The first part of her name “Stalina” is “stal” meaning “steel” in Ukrainian.)

On 8 November 2014 Stalina and Victor Chubenko from Kramatorsk buried their youngest son Stepan. He was a 16-year-old goalkeeper of the local football team “Avant-garde” cruelly killed by militants of “Kerch” battalion of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic in July, but his body was found only in autumn.

Stalina was looking for her son, went to the occupied territories and was present at exhumation. She, mother-steel, made the impossible: managed to organise the search beyond two sides of the frontline and in spite of all difficulties managed to determine names of those who had tortured and killed her son.

Mahadan, the Russian Federative Soviet Republic, 1974

A wide square near the central department store was filled with people. They resembled a shoal of small fish - all looked grey and similar, and seemed to move in the same direction. Near the department store (it is Gorkyi Street now) a round-faced fair-haired five-year-old girl was talking to her father who was going to fulfill her dream.

– Father, have you seen that doll? Let us buy it!

– Do you promise to behave well?

– Yes, I promise, always!

Viacheslav Mykhailovych, a flight mechanic of civil aviation, could never refuse his daughter’s wishes. And he did not refuse that time either, so in 15 minutes his beloved daughter was holding a pretty doll with plastic orange hair. The father and the daughter were happy. They had no idea that in 40 years they will face a tragedy and a war would try to separate them.

Kramatorsk, Ukraine 2018

“We always tried to help not only each other in our family, but also all those in need. My mother was a bookkeeper and often took my dolls to work, so that children of a cleaner could play with them, because that cleaner could not afford to buy toys”, Stalina Chubenko says.

She is that fair-haired girl and in her 49 she still resembles a pretty doll. She says that her mother never gave the other children to play with that doll with orange hair and also a soft hare, which her father had brought her from a trip. “These were my own treasures. By the way, the hare lived in my parents’ house till 1990-ies”, she smiles.

Her name, which always interests people was given to Stalina by her father. He lived in Russia and died a few months ago. Now she  remembers his words with sadness: “If somebody writes on a fence: “Katya is a fool”, it won’t be clear which Katya is meant. If somebody writes: ”Stalina is a fool”, all will know who is meant”. And after a while he always added: “Live and behave in a way, so that nobody could write rubbish about you on the fence”.

The woman says that many people associate her name “Stalina” with Stalin, because they both were born in December. But she personally likes the association with the word ”steel” better (“stal” means “steel” in Ukrainian). Her family members tell her: “Mother, you are steel”.

“In 2014 at the very beginning of the war in Donbas I often visited Debaltsevo of Donetsk region. And perhaps, barracks with toilets outside made the most negative impression on me. It seemed people could not be happy in such a wilderness. I thought there were no such depressing residential areas anywhere else in Ukraine. I was totally wrong.”

We are talking with Stalina and her husband Victor Chubenko in a similar ex-barrack, a two-storey house with several flats. Victor was born and grew up here, he brought his wife here, his two sons were born here and they were really happy as a family here.

“Vitya and I got to know each other in 1992”, Stalina says. He had a motorbike accident, fell down and was taken to the hospital. By that time I had already left Mahadan, lived in Rostov region with my parents and worked as a school teacher. That summer I came to Sloviansk to see my friend. She suggested to join her and visit a young man she knew in a hospital. Since that moment Vitya and I have been almost always together”.

The woman makes strong coffee in clay pots and puts plates with filled pancakes on a small table. She makes it in a very cosy way, so there is a feeling I am at home. I cannot express how pleasant, kind and sincere these people are. I am watching them, eating pancakes and everything seems fine until the moment I realise that they can never be as happy Stalina and Victor as they were in 1992.

Village of Gorbachevo-Mykhailivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 2014

Block posts in Donetsk and around the city have been made. People in military uniform are checking cars there. They are mostly local people, however there are also “arrived guests” wearing no distinguishing marks and being particularly polite. Nobody knows for sure how it will end, nobody is no longer surprised with roaring turbines of fighter aircrafts in the sky and caterpillar military machinery in the fields. The weather is very hot and sticky. The air is heavy and choky. If you walk during a day time, the blood seems to start boiling. It is better at night time, though you can still hardly breathe.

There are several cars waiting near one of the new block posts of Donetsk in the village of Gorbachevo-Mykhailivka. People in uniform check trunks and passports; their appearance frighten the embarrassed passengers of small transit buses.

“Who’s the chief here?”, a middle aged woman asks a man in uniform firmly.

She has a light linen clothes on. Her fair curly hair brushed back, eyes widely opened. “Who is the chief here? They have sent me from Donetsk. I am Stepan Chubenko’s mother. I know that he has been arrested here a few days ago. Styopa is only 16, he is still a child. Release him immediately! Where is my son, tell me?!”, she demands.

The man stares at her holding his gun and says: “The chief is coming. Stay here”.

Our Stiopa

Stepan Chubenko wanted to live to the fullest extent. He was 16 and it seemed he could find time for everything: football,  theatrical studio, Greco-Roman wrestling, Club of Fun and Smart, study, friends, video editing, help to local children’s house “Antoshka”. He grew up in Donbas in a Russian-speaking family, but he was born in independent Ukraine and often used to say: “I am Stiopa, I am a Ukrainian”.

Nothing has changed during the last few years in his room in ex-barrack in Kramatorsk: a teenager bed, a desk, books and posters. “Stepan asked us to put one poster on the wall”, his mother says. “We allowed him to do it. Then the second and the third one were put on, and finally almost the whole wall was covered with them.”

When in spring 2014 militants entered Kramatorsk and declared foundation of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, Stepan together with his friends-football fans became partisans. They stayed in the town, removed flags of separatists, distributed patriotic leaflets, wrote “Kramatorsk is Ukraine”, secretly came to our soldiers of nearby block posts to bring them some water or food.

“Once Stiopa went for a walk wearing a hoodie with an inscription “Glory to Ukraine!”, Victor Chubenko, the boy’s father, says. I stopped him saying: “What are you doing? Do you want to die?”. He looked at me and replied very emotionally: “Father, what is going on is wrong. It is not fair. Why do people keep silent?!”

After being a partisan in occupation for a few months, Stepan made a very difficult for him decision to leave Kramatorsk for Kyiv. The parents asked their sons to leave long ago, but both of them refused.  However, when local separatists noticed Stiopa, there was no other choice than to leave.

On 5 July 2014 the militants left Kramatorsk. The Ukrainian Armed Forces entered the town almost without any combat, some people even said without any shot. They gossiped that this episode of the undeclared war as well as liberation of the nearby Sloviansk was “an agreement”. But four years ago, Stepan and his parents did not care who had made that agreement, the main thing was that the Russians and those who supported them had left and there was peace.

A few weeks after the liberation of his native city Stiopa decided to return back. He did not inform his parents about it, because he wanted to make a surprise for them. Strangely, there were no direct trains from Kyiv to Kramatorsk that time: trains continued going to already occupied Donetsk and after that it was necessary to travel 100km by bus. So, Stepan travelled through Donetsk and village of Gorbachevo-Mykhailivka and after that he disappeared.

“Where is the aunt’s kitchen garden?”

“They called us on 24 July,” Stalina says. “They said Stiopa had been arrested in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic a few days before that. The person who called us said he was a people’s militiaman. I asked why my son had been arrested and got no reply.”

Stepan’s mother and his aunt went to Donetsk to rescue him. Local men were stopped at block posts and were made to join the separatists’ army. Stalina was afraid that they would do the same with her husband, so the two women decided to go and search for Stepan. The boy’s father came later and it was much easier  to go through the nearby villages with him.

“I felt anger and despair, but I believed that Stiopa was alive. It was not clear at first where and why he had been arrested, so we went to Donetsk. Accidentally we got into the building, where previously the Security Service of Ukraine had been situated, and also accidentally and due to my Russian citizenship, we came to Zakharchenko, the commander of the militants. I was sent from one office to another, from one person to another. Zakharchenko personally ordered to find Stepan. Some time later we learned that after the arrest, he was taken to a place near the village of Gorbachevo-Mykhailivka”, Stalina says.

While the woman made the separatists to search for her son by all possible means on the territory of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, Victor urged investigators on in Kramatorsk. Despite the intensity of the military actions, Stalina continued going to the territory not controlled by Ukraine. She did not have a fear to die, she had a fear not to find her son. In a very hot weather she was going from house to house in Gorbachevo-Mykhailivka holding his picture and asking if anybody saw her son.

The militants did not provide any clear information about Stepan. During the first visit to the block post near the village the separatists told his mother that they knew nothing about 16-year-old schoolboy Chubenko. During her third visit several militants under pressure of their leaders confessed that they had arrested Stiopa due to his yellow-blue ribbon on his rucksack and scarf with symbols of “Carpathians” football team. Besides, the teenager-patriot could cry: ”Donetsk is Ukraine!” or be rude with fighters. Unfortunately, nobody knows it for sure because the witnesses of Stepan’s detention have not disclosed any details.

“I was told that after the arrest my son was sent to dig trenches. According to the militants’ words they were going to release him, but during the shelling Stiopa used the situation, disappeared in an unknown direction and nobody saw him again”, Stalina says.

It was known both in Kyiv and Donetsk that Stepan’s mother and father were searching for him on both sides of the front line. Approximately in one and a half month of search one of the militants, a witness of the tragedy, decided to confess: “The boy did not escape. He was killed. I cannot tell you where his body is,  nobody knows it.”

“At the same time”, -  Victor Chubenko says, - “ there were people who wanted to make a profit out of our grief. You cannot imagine how many times per night or per day swindlers called us saying: “We have your son, but his freedom costs money. Come if you want to see him alive.”  On the one side, such calls gave us hope. On the other side, they continued killing us internally. When they let us talk with supposedly our son, we asked where his aunt’s kitchen garden was, or what nickname one of his teachers had. Only Stepan could know the right answers, so the swindlers panicked and stopped calling”.

Five shots

They searched for Stiopa Chubenko approximately 100 days. At first they searched for him as alive, then as dead. After the militants of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic said the boy had been killed soon after his detention, Stepan’s parents literally digged all the ground near that evil block post. The boy’s body was found by the militants, when in autumn one of them agreed to show where the  burial had been made.

Somebody called Stalina from Donetsk at the beginning of October and informed that they would do exhumation and would inform her when to come to take the body. “Mother-steel” answered that she would personally come to take her son and left for the block post immediately.

“Stiopa was killed very cruelly. He did not deserve it: his hands were tied up behind his back with a scotch tape, his teeth were knocked out, he had multiple injuries and  bullet wounds… They shot 5 times at him. They shot at his head. Before shooting they covered his face with a T-shirt, probably they could not look into his eyes. They also took off his sneakers to wear them, we saw them on a photo with a militant, who was killed later. I had a synchronous interrogation with one of the witnesses. He asked to forgive him for not interfering and saving Stepan. He also said: ”Your boy behaved with dignity. He did not cry and did not beg for mercy”, Stalina Chubenko says.

The witness did not know the names of the killers, only their nicknames: Kerch, Zhora and Buba. They were militants of “Kerch” battalion of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. The parents of the goalkeeper of the junior football team “Avant-garde” managed to determine the real names of those who had killed their son themselves by monitoring fighters’ mass and social media, speaking with local people.

The Ukrainian investigation and investigation in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic also confirmed that the killers of Stepan Chubenko were Vadym Pogodin (born on 16.01.1971, “Kerch”), Yuriy Moskaliov (born on 03.08.1969, “Zhora”) and Maksym Sukhomlynov (born on 16.05. 1984, “Buba”). They were sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia in November 2017 in Ukraine. A few months before that Pogodin was detained by INTERPOL request in Yalta, but then he was released. According to the Ukrainian police, now all three fighters are on the territory of the Russian Federation. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine assures that they have provided all  necessary for their extradition documents, but the Russians do not hustle to search for the killers of Stepan Chubenko. If Pogodin, Moskaliov and Sukhomlynov are detained on the territory of Russia not by INTERPOL request, they should still be returned to Ukraine according to the laws of the Russian Federation.

Stiopa was buried on 8 November 2014. His parents still do not know when exactly he was killed: on the headstone made in a form of a football field, the date is 27 July, but probably, he was shot later. His “mother-steel” organised the most honourable farewell for her son she could: it was in Kramatorsk House of Culture with open microphone, hundreds of people and piles of flowers. “I understood”, Stalina Chubenko says, “that I would not organise a graduation or a wedding party for my son, I would not come to the baptism of his children. All I could do was to organise an honourable farewell”.

“Either steel, or aluminium”

In Stepan Chubenko’s room in ex-barrack in Kramatorsk nothing has changed during the last few years: his teenager bed, a desk, books and posters. His “mother-steel” has organised a mini museum here to remember her son, and  his trusty dog Bim sleeps on his bed instead of Stiopa.

Stalina often shows videos with her son on the old computer to journalists and Stepan’s friends who often come with a visit: Stiopa is being taken from the maternity hospital, Stiopa is at school, Stiopa is reciting a poem... I have never seen such a big family video archive, it seems that Victor Chubenko, the head of the family,  always had a camera with him. Stalina says: “Maybe we subconsciously felt that something terrible would happen, and because of that we tried to make videos with Stepan on any occasion”.

Stalia has almost nothing left from the year of 1992, when she first met her husband: her mother died before the war, and her father, Vyacheslav Mykhailovych, died several months ago. Stalina went to his funeral to Russia, though her husband was afraid that after all those events she could be detained at the border. But it was OK. The woman tries not to speak about life in Ukraine with her relatives from Rostov region as it was with her father: before Stiopa’s death they could argue rather emotionally, but now they try not to mention the war.

“I think if you love somebody, love to the end, if you start doing something - finish it. I could not avoid going to the Russian Federation to say goodbye to my father, could not stop looking for my son on the occupied territories. I cannot keep silent now, when his killers are free and Moscow has no plans of arresting them and sending them back to Ukraine. There are no semitones in my life: I am either as solid as steel or as soft as aluminium”.

OSCE: “29 CIVILIANS WERE KIILED IN DONBAS DURING HALF A YEAR

During a briefing Alexander Hug, the Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine stated that 29 civilians had been killed in the occupied part of Donbas during the first 6 months of 2018.

According to his words, OSCE Special Monitoring Mission confirmed that during the period of 1 January-1 July 2018 161 civilians became victims: 29 people were killed and 132 people were wounded.

Alexander Hug also informed that OSCE Special Monitoring Mission continued investigating the case of shelling of teenagers by the militants on the temporarily occupied part of Donbas.

Previously, during a briefing on 2 August 2018 Dmytro Hutsuliak, spokesman of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine informed that the Russian servicemen fired into a crowd of teenagers in Horlivka, Donetsk oblast. As a result several teenagers were wounded.

According to the data of Defence Intelligence, Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, illegal actions by the Russian proxies towards the civilians of the occupied territories of Donbas have become more frequent.

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