The battle for Donbass is harsh, sordid and cruel


The Russian artillery opens deep scars in the land, but the people do not move from their houses. At his side, the Ukrainian soldiers also endure, but at the cost of a physical and mental effort that exhausts them. The weapons they have are not enough to contain the enemy. The Russian advance in Donbass is slow but steady. The next few weeks will be even tougher in this region of rolling hills, now sown with a green wheat that the big, stubborn red tractors refuse to abandon.

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Everyone who had to leave is long gone and the one who has stayed will not move. Stress, anxiety and fear fill the heads and hearts of some people with emotions who, when asked why they haven’t left, respond because they can’t or don’t want to, because they have a disabled family member or because their home is their world.

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“My house is my homeland,” said a woman yesterday in front of the ruins of hers in Berestove. The Russian troops are ten kilometers away and are advancing towards her. Three days ago, a shell blew up the back garden and much of the house. She is miraculously alive, but she doesn’t want to leave. He will wait for the Russians as will his neighbors, families with children who play ball in the street even though the war has been pounding on their door for days.

“It’s a roulette,” a resigned man acknowledged in Liman, an important railway junction subjected to intense fire from Russian artillery for four days. Yesterday afternoon a part of the station and a ground floor house were on fire, and yet, despite the danger, there were people on foot, on bicycles, heading for a destination that could cost them their lives.

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“It’s a roulette wheel,” acknowledged a railway employee. His wife and his two daughters were at home and had decided to wait for the Russians, who had already reached the track beach, located just over a kilometer from the corner where we had settled down to discuss impressions and news.

If Liman falls, the Russian army will have an important bridgehead. He will be able to send reinforcements and supplies by train, as he is doing in Izium, a place he took a few days ago.

Russia accumulates hundreds of men and weapons in Izium. The Ukrainians fear that he has deployed the mobile batteries of the Iskander missiles, which are ballistic and medium-range, enough to blow up large infrastructures.

The Russian army advances from Izium to the south, but also from its positions to the east and south of Kramatorsk.

The Ukrainian army reinforces its defenses with more men and more weapons. The roads are a coming and going of military transport, of private cars with soldiers going to the front, towards cities in flames as Pospaya was yesterday, a square about 60 kilometers from Kramatorsk that the Ukrainian army was about to lose.

The situation is so complicated that the stations that are heard on the Donbass front and throughout Ukraine yesterday carried the message of the Minister of Defense calling for an even greater effort from an exhausted population and army because the next two weeks will be difficult.

Two helicopters in low flight risked everything yesterday afternoon over the cereal meadows to fulfill their mission in enemy territory. These displays of courage, however, will not suffice if the allies’ weapons do not reach the front lines immediately. Ukraine will lose more territory, but still, in defeat, it will have one last chance if the population does not collaborate with the invader.

It happened in 2014. Pro-Russian separatists took control of cities like Sloviansk. Moscow sent a small supporting military detachment. The idea was to recruit a thousand men and create a local defense force, but hardly anyone signed up. With no popular support and no means of asserting themselves, the Russians withdrew after four months. With them departed the leaders of the separatist insurgency. They abandoned the psychiatric hospital that had served as their command post, a building that they left in ruins and so on.

Eight years have passed and the Russians are back the same way. The Liman railwayman has decided that he will leave as soon as they take the station. He doesn’t think it will be too late. I tell him if he knows what has happened in Mariupol, in Bucha, in other occupied cities. Why do you think the Russians will be less cruel in Liman than in Bucha? He admits that he doesn’t know, but says he senses it. He senses that they will respect him because they are not so different. They speak the same Russian as him. They will understand each other, he assures him.

The railwayman has no choice but to wait. He refuses to see the grim and sordid face of war. He believes that his eighteen and eight year old daughters will not be traumatized, that he will not be killed, and that no one will rape his wife.

The earth trembles and men who suffer like him believe that their roots will save them from the ignominy that lurks behind a horizon that gets closer every day. They don’t know how to live any other way.

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