Foreboding and Fear in Ukraine

Journalist Mark Raczkiewycz reports on the plight of families displaced by war in Ukraine in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE.

Journalist Mark Raczkiewycz reports on the plight of families displaced by war in Ukraine in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. Here, he explains the dread that now hangs over the people.

War will come back to the government-controlled area of Donetsk region this spring, six displaced people predicted during interviews in early March. It’s an inescapable foreboding that was constantly echoed from people who’ve lived through constant shelling, fear and stress once before.

“When Yenakieve became essentially a war zone, everything changed, nobody celebrated holidays, nobody was on the streets, it was very sad,” Ihor Horodilov, 55, told me outside the Svyatohirsk Monastery where he shares a room with six other men. “I didn’t think there would be war. I lived in peace all my life, I didn’t think it would come to this.”

The former bank security guard and others felt that Russian forces won’t stop. They had already taken Debaltseve after the third truce had taken effect in February. The city, with a pre-war population of 25,000, was leveled. It has now fewer than 7,000 residents, 5,000 of whom are estimated to be living underground in basements and improvised bunkers, according to a 6 March statement delivered by John Ging, operations director for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

When Ukrainian forces pulled back from the city and shelling ceased, Barbara Manzi, head of the UN’s OCHA office in Ukraine said that people in Debaltseve were so traumatized that they went “back to sleep in their dungeons believing that the violence would continue.”

In a sense it still does.

Two weeks before we visited Slovyansk to speak to a refugee from Donetsk City, Ukraine’s KGB-successor agency, the SBU, had detained two residents who were part of a network of informers for the separatists.

On the day we set off from Kharkiv, the vehicle of the commander of a special police battalion, Andriy Yanjolenko, exploded in the government-controlled eastern city. He and his spouse were inside the car and both were hospitalized with severe wounds.

Kharkiv and Odesa, both outside the combat zone, have been the scenes of a spate of mysterious bombings that Ukrainian authorities attribute to Russian special forces and their agents in Ukraine. The most powerful attack came on 22 February. An explosion killed four people and wounded 15 when a bomb detonated at the front of a pro-Kiev peaceful march to commemorate last year’s Euromaidan movement.

For these reasons, the atmosphere is tense. A 67-year-old pensioner from Donetsk, as well as the others, say they just want to live in peace regardless of who’s in charge.

“We’re afraid will return to Slovyansk,” said Lidia Usypenko. “If they (Russian forces) come, then let them do it peacefully without fighting.”

Read more in “Casualties of War” in the Spring edition of ONE.

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