Bright red poppies. It seemed that they don’t belong here. But they were the personification of the spilled blood. They scattered by burgundy drops among the lush greenery in which the village drowned. Broken house with gaping holes in the walls and the gate is right behind the poppies. It sadly stares into your soul with empty eye sockets windows. The silent question: “for what?” is in the air.
We arrived at the long-suffering village Nikishino. Now I stare at the house that was painfully familiar. I saw pictures of March, 2015. It unlikely can be forgotten.
They were buried near their thresholds…
Under my feet is gravel, dirt, rusty splinters, broken bricks and liners.
Together with volunteers of humanitarian organizations of the Donetsk People’s Republic in March of 2015 I arrived into the village Nikishino. The fighting for the village did not abate just a week ago. Immediately after the liberation of the village people rushed here to help local residents, who survived the hell.
A sharp fragment struck the sole of my shoe, pain shot through my right leg. Lucky the sole has detained splinter and I pulled brown orange piece of deadly metal from shoe. The whole road was covered with the same “kids”. It was metal carpet. To the left of me I noticed a young family. They were removing the shards of broken glass and small portions of a ruined house. Baby eight years of age helped her parents with a small broom in her hands. They are not immediately drew attention to the humanitarian convoy, which brought them medicine, food and clothes.
The truck stood a little further. A girl sat in the back and gave humanitarian aid to the elderly. I was embarrassed to photograph them. A strange feeling of shame was inside. I sympathized with these people because I thought that I understand that they had to endure. The stories told by the elderly, deserve to be heard.
After a brief conversation with one of the old ladies in the queue, a woman called out to me. She saw me with the camera in the hands and offered to take some pictures. Woman with wept eyes led me to the house. More precisely — it were the ruins, the ashes that once was home to a large and happy family. And here before me was a pile of charred brick mixed with dirt and the charred remains of a bygone life.
“Make a pictures, make them,” the woman repeated with despair and hopelessness behind me. Their lives were destroyed. The only thing that gave them hope — voices of journalists. They wanted the world to hear about their tragedy.
Two women and a man were standing nearby. They are about something talked. I went over and asked them to tell their stories. Without fear and of fright, they told me the conditions in which they spent the last 8 months. There are not so many I People in the village. Most of them had time to leave. Who decided to stay on their land, were forced to endure hell.
The story of one funeral was for me the most impressive out of an abundance of tragic stories. There were fierce battles. Woman was killed by shrapnel in her own backyard. Neighbors initially took the body to the garage and sat it out in an arm-chair. When the body began to decompose, neighborhood boys under whistling bullets and heavy artillery fire dug a small pit in the garden and buried the woman next to the tree. At that time, when I was in Nikishino, the cemetery was not checked by sappers. It was not the possibility to rebury the body. The lady of the house left lying in her own yard, where death overtook her.
In the rays of the June sun the cat bathed, lying on the bench at home. Quilts were drying on the clothesline. A stack of fresh bricks is next to the house, waiting in the wings. I learned this house. In 2015, an old lady was showing it me, talking about the horrors of war. In the subconscious her phrase was given as the echo: “I live here in this summer kitchenette. Thank God, it has remained.” I looked at the details, but did not dare to go and say “Hello”. There were all signs that anyone lives here. Certainly, the woman continues to live in her home. I only took a step when I was called. Colleagues didn’t want to wait long for me. We had to move on. By the sole of shoe I felt stepped on solid bump. It was he shank from the mine. Its “petals” were surfaced. They were repeatedly driven on by heavy equipment and civil transport. This fact gives suggests that the mine is safe. Some more of the same I found nearby. They studded the asphalt in Nikishino.
I ran in the EMERCOM bus, where angry journalists were already waiting for me. Driving through the village, I noticed that the grocery store began to work. This name is too loud, rather a small stall. The Church was once next door. Only the skeleton remained. Instead of the old shrines new was being built. Many of the remaining homes were replaced by plastic window. Homes, where people live, are easily distinguished from vacant. There is cleaned the area in front of the building, inserted a window, and sometimes even cars and mopeds are near.
Along the way we met older people more often. Children, unfortunately, will be bored here: once a luxury country club, where they used to be in dancing, singing and concerts, is destroyed; the school is in ruins.
We get to the most destroyed part of the village. In the memory this place was remembered as an apocalyptic landscape with completely destroyed dugouts. The field was cut into strips by trenches in which lay unexploded and deformed shells, cans of corned beef. There I found dirty children’s stuffed toy. Now here it is different nature has healed scars from the trenches. At the flea pit, I learned the former trench of the Ukrainian military. It’s safe here. This place is checked by sappers of the Ministry of emergency situations of the DPR. Now they check the neighboring field. Something was buzzing. Dust rose. The metal tracks began to stir, moving armored vehicle. It is very similar to a tank.
— It will not do for fighting. Therefore it is called “crawler”. It was developed based on T-64, but fight it can’t, — explains to me the officer of the EMERCOM.
By the way, being in Nikishino armored vehicle for demining alerted the employees of the OSCE. In their opinion, it is a violation of the Minsk agreements. They come after each projectile detonation and fix everything in their reports.
“Tank” makes its way through a minefield by rut mine trawl. To overcome obstacles trawl equipped with two hinged rods, which touches the mines by the antenna and causes premature wear in the mines. Engineers discovered not transported a shell from an RPG.
Because of the deformation it was decided to blow it up on the spot. Rescuers are asking us to move away. We withdraw to a safe distance and put our lenses to the place of the future explosion. Blast is rattled. Land scatters in all directions. Sappers went the first to the place of blow of the bomb squad. We followed after them. After some time punctual international observers have arrived. They filmed all on their phones and went to the ruined Palace of culture. The next shell blows up the trawl. Dust and white smoke enveloped the armored vehicle.
The wounded cradle of knowledge
Broken glass and bricks crackle under our feet. Concrete beam has collapsed. Rays of light penetrate into the broken building through the numerous holes from tank and artillery shells. Textbooks and exercise books, old wooden tables and chairs are everywhere. Rotten wooden windows with no glass are wide open. Sports hall with one surviving basketball hoop is completely empty. Greenery penetrates the concrete floor of the ruins of the school in the village Nikishino.
Rural schools are very similar, but that’s not why this place looked familiar. Almost such school I saw in the village Stepanovka (near Saur-Grave). Volunteers from the “Right sector”, leaving the town, hit deliberately shot on socially important objects. They even said that it will be impossible to restore life here. Their “sworn brothers” in Nikishino did the same “operation”.
On the way back, we notice that red flag appeared on tormented monument to Soviet soldier. Unbroken victorious soldier is holding a banner of Victory. On the background of the monument — there is a broken club. I remember it littered with broken bricks and broken playground before it. Local residents have cleaned the area around the Palace of culture. There are already no white armored vehicles. The working day ended at international observers.
Controversial feelings are inside me. On the one hand, life in Nikishino gradually returned. People try to recover what they still can. But their efforts are not enough. In order to local able to return to everyday life, tremendous efforts and huge money is needed. Destroyed buildings are still not allowed to fully enjoy by a peaceful life. They supposedly left the whistle of bullets and mines, the cries and moans. The experience will hardly can forget by witnesses of those bloody events. It will stay with them forever. Terrifying pictures of the battle for the village will be up all night, for both military and civilian.
The apocalyptic picture is not fully, but can tell you about the hell going on here in the winter of 2015. I remember a volunteer from Russia, whom I met after he left “in reserve”. Soldier lost a leg in the battle for Nikishino. This fact forced him to leave the weapon and do a humanitarian mission. Denis, it is the name of the Petersburg volunteer, helps wounded warriors to rehabilitate and recover, without becoming discouraged and despairing in life. Then he told me the following:
When I was in the war, I drank a lot of coffee. I’ve seen the destruction, the death of comrades at the front and distraught animals due to cannonade. In my subconscious I was back home, came to a café and drink my favorite coffee. Then I came back. As I dreamed, I went to a favorite cafe. I watched as ordinary people were sitting nearby. They measuredly communicate on some mundane topic. I was sitting with a mug of coffee, inhaling its aroma deeply, and could not get away from the thoughts that haunted me all the time that I was in a peaceful town. I thought about the war and about the Donbass. I could not get rid of the obsession to come back to Donetsk again to fight with the comrades that stood in Nikishino and stormed the checkpoint of the Ukrainian army under Debaltsevo. So there I was dreaming about a peaceful life, but here I think only about war.
Alas, the war did not go unnoticed to anyone…
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