Civilians on the front: “How many bombs, enough”

Of Andrea Nicastro

Villages in the area controlled by Kiev but claimed by pro-Russians live dramatic hours: “They are about to arrive”

From our correspondent
Novotroicke (Ukraine-Donetsk Contact Line)

Mykola Taran he is a giant with the broad belly of the drinker, his round head planted on the redwood of his neck, his hands that would smash a demijohn. He lives ten kilometers from the guns of the separatist rebels and now also of the Russian ones. He is warm indoors when he hears barking. If his neighbors have been hiding from it or have spoken from the window or behind the net, he goes out calmly to meet strangers, dirty with earth and coal. I am a farmer, he introduces himself. He shows the potato warehouse, smiles, but he asks the questions. He comes the offer of tea. The cup is chipped, the sugar bowl lost like his wife. For us Ukrainians there is nothing better than “borsh, vodka and salo”, soup, vodka and bacon, smile and study. He spreads out the usual platitudes: let’s hope they will come to an agreement so that we, poor people … Then, almost to his greetings, try to give confidence: I was a paratrooper, a Soviet paratrooper. I did five shifts in Afghanistan and three in Chechnya, worse there. But now I’m done with the war.

What do you think about what’s going on? Russia versus Ukraine, your past versus your present? Mykola gets up, opens a cupboard that will fall to pieces as soon as he no longer needs it, and takes out a chessboard.

Putin made this move. You see her? It is castling. He has secured the king, which would then be the separatist provinces that no one dreams of asking him any more, and freed the tower. If he wants he can attack, bomb, take the port of Mariupol or the city of Kramatorsk, if not he will wait for a better time. But it just depends on him.

The Kiev mobilization does not impress Mykola. The “three lines of defense” of which the Ukrainian establishment (army, reservists and militiamen) is proud makes him raise his eyebrows. He lowers his voice when he says that the Russian special forces, the Spetsnaz, arrive wherever they want, in any country, at any time. Artillery can kill you, this house can crumble, tanks can pass over you, but it’s the spetsnaz who win the battles. Here in Donbass he just needs to take three key positions and that’s it, the infantrymen just have to clean up. Which? The factories, the headquarters of the police and that of the secret services. In a week they join Russia to Crimea.

Not everyone in the villages along the border between Ukraine and breakaway regions is so resigned. “Normalna, normalna,” Denys keeps repeating. But he’s sick of waking up to the bombs. They started strong again, he says.

“According to my brother, the invasion is a matter of days. He was returning from the factory night shift and it felt like New Year’s Eve. Barrels and lightning everywhere. The walls of the house shook. Mom and aunts have been calling me every day for two weeks: go away, go away. Now, with the mobilization, they won’t let me out of the country. Never mind, anyway I would have volunteered anyway. But what are the Russians doing here? Let them stay at their home ».

From behind the garden net, a cheerful granny worries about foreigners who visit her village of Dokuchaevsk. She is holding the shovel she needs to load the stove with coal.

«My son, but why don’t you have a cap? It’s cold, you have to put it on. To you I tell what I repeat to the relatives who stay warm where you live. They are in Bari, all scared of Covid even if they have three vaccines. And what do I have to tell him that I don’t have any vaccines and that I’ve been hearing the bombs for eight years? To worry? But go! I am calm here, I go on like a tank. May God protect you my son. And don’t go to that part that is dangerous ».

Ms. Dietrich runs the last little shop before the Ukrainian military bases in Novomihailovka. The soldiers, he says, come to buy candy and cigarettes: «They are boys, like my son. In 2014 they called him military to defend the country and we fought for five years of war ». He says so: we have. She in her bunker shop, with a window that looks like those of some night pharmacies here. She who, to see the customers, has to almost put her head in the hatch. And he who for five years went up and down the contact line to fight. But luckily he always came home. “We’ve been through a lot in those years. Me in spirit on his shoulder and him to fight. Bad things. Very ugly. These bombs are nothing in comparison and I keep the shop open. How would those guys do without a treat every now and then? But if they attack, we should go back to the front, fight back. And it would be ugly, very ugly ».


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