miércoles, 17 de mayo de 2017

Our First Humanitarian Visit To Donbass

The humanitarian organizations Vostok Solidaridad Donbass from Spain and Ouest-Est from France commenced a joint humanitarian mission to Donbass during 9-10 May focusing on Donetsk and several nearby towns. Our impression when we first arrived in Donetsk was that we were in an absolutely normal city, just like any other place with over one million inhabitants, because there were open shops everywhere and people casually strolling around on the streets. Several kilometres away, however, the landscape was totally different, and we began to see damaged or destroyed buildings as well as barricades and security checkpoints.

We didn’t have any time to get familiar with downtown Donetsk because we were busy preparing for our first mission to the frontlines roughly 50 kilometres away, which would take us to the little village of Zaitsevo, located right next to the city of Gorlovka. The first thing that we noticed once we got there were the incessant artillery attacks which we heard all the time and the signs which warned us not to step off of the road for fear of walking into a minefield. We must point out that we arrived at a very special time, since 9 May is celebrated as Victory Day in Russia, Ukraine, and other countries in this part of the world. They commemorate the end of the Second World War, which is a heartfelt memory for many of them because most people lost at least one relative at that time. In total, roughly 26 million Soviet citizens perished in the war, the largest amount for any European country by far.  

Following the local tradition, we paid a visit to the village elders who were old enough to have experienced that war first-hand, and unfortunately were once again reliving the same horrible scenario from their youth many decades ago. At first we expected that it would be a routine event – we’d gift them a flower, wish them a good day, and donate one thousand roubles – but we soon saw that the raw reality of war overcame anything that we could have anticipated.

These pictures show some of the veterans who we saw during our visit.

With each passing visit, we came to realize more and more just how hard of a situation it is for the elderly people caught up in this warzone. Most of them either live alone or with a few of their relatives in homes which usually lacked electricity, water, or gas. This is because such supplies are commonly cut off during war as the infrastructure networks get destroyed. In addition, many of the people who we saw were suffering from some kind of medical problem which either impeded their mobility or required many medications, hence why we donated one thousand rubles so that they could buy what they need. Without this, and considering their very low pensions, they might not be able to regularly afford the food and medicine which they need to survive during this tough time of war.

Each old veteran presented us with both sad and happy memories. On the one hand, it was sorrowful to see where and how they live, yet on the other, it filled us with so much joy to see them smile or even cry because they couldn’t believe that people from Spain and France would visit them in this desperate time and place and give them a flower and a small donation for economic help. Although this action might seem insignificant or unimportant, something which could scarcely change anything in the larger dynamics of the war, it really had an enormous impact, both on the old people whom we visited and on ourselves. I don’t want to evoke clichés or sentimentalism, but it’s heart-breaking when you personally see people in such sorry situations, yet at the same time also so sincerely grateful for the unexpected help which we provided during our visit.

Once we were done visiting the elderly, we were led to a school in Zaitsevo. It’s not really a school anymore, but a frontline soldier’s position for the Donetsk People’s Republic, and we were allowed to enter into one of the many trenches which both sides dug throughout the course of this war. Once you set foot in them, you can’t help but wonder whether you’re still in Europe. It’s a peculiar feeling to realize that the whole reason why the ancient relic of trench warfare has come back to the continent is because European and North American leaders supported this war in the first place, hypocritically talking about peace and human rights while simultaneously encouraging this conflict because it advanced their business interests.  

The Soviet monument and school can be seen in the pictures on the right side, the lower-left one shows the sign warning about minefields, and the other picture is at the entrance to Gorlovka.  

The day ended back in Donetsk, where we went to an orthopaedic material shop and bought two walkers which were delivered to Novoazovsk, a coastal town in the Republic, for two senior citizens who needed them.

On the next day, 10 May, we began our humanitarian activity in the Children’s Cardiology Hospital of Donetsk, where we delivered €3,000 worth of special medical materials which allowed the doctors to perform complex heart operations on three of their young patients. While there, we were able to visit the hospital’s facilities and were able to personally confirm that they’re severely lacking in the required resources. Some of the rooms had several children in them, around 2-4, each of which were accompanied by a relative, so it was clear to see that overcrowding is an issue. Finally, the doctor in charge of this cardiological section told us how they’re also lacking proper batteries for defibrillators, among other necessities.

A view of one of the rooms, the kitchen facilities, and one of the defibrillators.

More pictures of the halls in the hospital, the toilet, and some of the other rooms.

Without wasting a second, we then immediately departed on our second humanitarian mission for the day which took us to the town of Khartsysk around 20 kilometres east of Donetsk. During this visit, we bought and delivered foodstuff to a family with 5 daughters, the eldest of which also has a son. This family fled persecution in Ukraine and found refuge in Donetsk, where they now live in the rooms of a former sanatorium which have been reconverted to accommodate displaced people like them.

These pictures are of a large family and an outside view of their dwellings. 

Moreover, we also spoke with the local population during our time there and asked them how they live and feel. The oldest people who remember World War II from their childhood are, without a doubt, the saddest and most disheartened because of this situation since the nightmare of their earlier years has suddenly returned and once again tormented them for the past 3 years and counting. This war is very similar to the previous one, and even has some of the same historical battlefields such as Saur Mogila. These elderly people also remember how hard it was after the war ended, when everything was destroyed and it took a while to return life back to its normal state.

On the other hand, the youngest generation, even those who had studied in Western European countries, feel a deep sadness in seeing how this part of the continent forgot about its recent history of wars. They feel that these Europeans don’t appreciate the significance of living in peace, and it’s sadly ironic to them how Western youth constantly speak about entering into wars.

Meanwhile, people are living in the middle of a war in Donbass, with never-ending artillery attacks, mainly at night, always waking them up or forcing them to sleep in their basements just in case their home gets bombed. This daily terror is the product of an externally imposed war being waged to promote the interests of the US and its EU “allies” whose rulers want to take Ukraine under their control. This wartime terror is something which the people of Donbass always have on their mind, and they regret that those outside of their home region – and especially people living in Western Europe – don’t appreciate the peace that they now have, which is something that the Donbass people yearn to experience.

This concluded our first humanitarian visit to Donbass, where we came with limited resources but had a solid will to help as much as we could where it was needed the most. The only thing that we’re sure of is that we will come back with more help and for as many people as possible, and that we will continue doing so until this imposed war is finished.