Frontline Sloviansk. Sketches about a city in Donetsk region, its people and recent history

12 Жовтня 2022, 15:09

In the morning of February 24, one could notice more concerned and serious faces in the streets, mostly whole families wandered about having felt the urge to buy the most necessary things: from candles to cat food (for the latter there were long lines for several days). And there was also a problem with money: the first few weeks the situation with ATMs was a real mess. It wasn’t so scary until the beginning of March, when the sirens started working at full capacity. The city, like all others, was not ready for war, and therefore there were practically no warning systems as such. But it was in a certain sense calmer without them. At about the same time, a family apparently from some close and flash point on the map of Ukraine (parents with two children with frightened eyes) rented an apartment in my nine-story building, having brought a cage with a canary and a large aquarium with giant snails. After the first jarring sound of sirens, they immediately called a taxi, quickly packed things and off they went, having left the encaged bird and the container with gastropods at the entrance hall.

From the accounts of eyewitnesses, it seems that the events in Sloviansk were developing similarly to those in most frontline settlements: civilians were gradually decreasing in a number (and conversely, more military were arriving), small shops were closing, and larger ones were evacuating the most valuable equipment. And for a long time, you couldn’t believe that everything was repeating itself and more and more resembling the scenery of a ghost town from American westerns.

The people who remain have become more cautious and focused, passing on rumors to each other and calling around the city to get the full picture. Many friends and acquaintances signed up for the territorial defense in the very first days (there were more volunteers than the army recruiting office expected), so these people contact them to find out what is not mentioned in the official news. Some locals did not go anywhere and waited for what would happen to Lyman and Sviatohirsk and left Sloviansk after their temporary (as it turned out) occupation. Some  bought a gas cylinder and hired workers to drill a borehole for water in the yard. Young people, for the most part, were among the first to leave, for giving out draft notices became a quite frequent routine and educational institutions and coffee shops closed. Some of them, however, are staying in hometown, they rallied to help low-income families, pensioners and disabled people, providing them with food packages, medicines or other things. And above all this, sickening sirens periodically sound, which you get used to, although there were serious destructions even when they did not warn. In general, something constantly bangs and booms, and the brain involuntarily fixes: closer or farther it gets, incoming or outcoming. You gradually begin to distinguish between explosions and other sharp sounds, you even know how to identify most of them, which is why almost no one hides in the basement anymore. I remember that in 2014, when, strangely enough, the shelling was as if according to the schedule (in the morning and in the evening), its absence at the «proper» time was more disturbing than its presence.

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The situation in Donbas back then was a rehearsal without aviation and heavy artillery, but the most despondent thing is that the current events are met by almost thоse same people. Since time immemorial, Sloviansk has been lucky to have «old hand managers», whose election campaign was fervently supported by communists, «Party of Regions» members and the like. Voting for a certain candidate is always an extravaganza of local reluctance neither to understand politics nor to meaningfully choose one for some real achievements (after all, this is an all-Ukrainian problem). In particular, the last deputy from Sloviansk to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine — «a featureless person» Yuri Solod — whom Natalia Korolevska always brought with herself as a bonus, telling at all meetings with voters what a good choice he was. He didn’t even have to speak (it seemed that he couldn’t), they voted for him mechanically, and also because Yuri Boiko shook his hand on the big boards (the logic is also peculiar: we are for Boiko, and as long as he is for Solod, we also support Solod).

In general, no one has learned a lesson after 2014, especially ordinary people. Thus, after all the mischief done then by our inadequate (weird) lady-mayor Nelia Shtepa, came to power with the slogan «Love Sloviansk like Nelia» the representative of the «Opposition Bloc» Vadym Liakh. And it is important to brand them, because they are that «fifth column» that had worked for the enemy for so long and with impunity, preparing to greet them.

Odious politicians have either shifted their ground, or disappeared for the time being, leaving behind their scumbags, of which there are plenty in Sloviansk as well. These separatists and «awaiters» («zhduny» or Homunculus Loxodontus) are also given away by an obsessive desire to find out not only what shells get at, but also from which direction they come. And then pundit speculations that the “incoming” could also be from the positions of the ZSU (Armed Forces of Ukraine). When being asked what makes them do this, the answer is mainly one: they want to play havoc so that the locals will run away, and then no one will prevent the Ukrainian soldiers from looting houses and apartments. These city folk now also say those who have evacuated: «We shall see how you will be coming back.» After the terrible shelling of the railway station in Kramatorsk in April by a missile, these people, instead of grieving or perhaps remaining silent, dared to say: «It’s not that obvious who launched a missile.»

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This could be explained by the fact that in 2014, Sloviansk really suffered some destructions after shelling by ZSU (Armed Forces of Ukraine), when they tried to knock down the one and only elusive «Nona» — a Soviet self-propelled mortar system, which DNR (DPR — Donetsk Public Republic) militants used to shell both the city and the positions of our troops. But the nature of this separatism is deeper — small-town patriotism multiplied by pro-Russian sympathies through family or work bonds. Against this background, it is important that pro-Ukrainian sentiments here have only intensified in recent years, and if they were not much demonstrated before, now many simply cannot remain silent. However, there has never been a lack of separatists and the like in the city, and they are still many. And you can’t help it, except to remember the sad saying «Only the grave will redeem a knave»… However, even the most ardent «Russia-lovers» sent their wives, sisters and young children away from Sloviansk, but not to the east, as was the case in 2014, to the beloved birches, they sent them to the west — Ukrainian or European. The logic is specific, because such people do not like either «westerners» («zapadentsi» — people of western regions of Ukraine) or «rotten Europe». Most of them also demonstratively speak Russian there, confusing many, say, the same Poles, who quite naturally do not understand it.

This is how Sloviansk lives on, comparing and hoping, slowly returning to its usual life. And the current expectations here are quite simple: if only they would have gas in the winter and there would be less shelling. Well, and also that there would be no war, the end of which everyone sees almost the same way, but in fact it is quite different: some want peace, and others need only victory.