Spartak is a not large village in Donbass. It little differs from the other small villages in the area: private houses and huts, small cottages, modest cozy yards, small gardens, not high Soviet-era residential blocks. There are many such villages throughout Russia and sometimes only locals and their relatives know about them. However, Spartak is known nearly to everyone who reads newspapers and watches news.
The reason is that Spartak has turned out to be on the frontline. It has been a populated area in the red zone danger area located directly along the frontline. Spartak is one of the most vulnerable points on the military map of Donbass. It is located lower than the Ukrainian positions and is in full view, militaries explain. Spartak neighbors Avdeyevka, Opitnoe and Peski, populated areas under control of Ukraine. One can reach it from embattled Avdeyevka within 1.5-hour on foot. The runway of the Donetsk airport is nearby – it will take 10 minutes to walk to it from the village center.
One can hardly find a house not hit by bombardments. There are big holes in yards or gardens, as if large meteorites had hit them. One can see shells protruding from the ground throughout the village.
Regular shelling and blasts constantly remind the locals about war that has become part of their everyday life, children’s games and evening family gatherings.
War has become silent for the local residents. They no longer hear the sound of shells, like the people living near tramlines no longer notice the noise of traffic. War has turned into a kind of natural calamity the people cannot resist. War has turned into environment people have to adjust their life to and reckon with.
And they have adjusted their life to it. About 70 people, including 2 children, live in Spartak now, though it was a 2,000-strong village before the war. No electricity, no water, no heating. The people have to use old small woodstoves to warm. They take water from wells and have shower at their friends’ homes outside the village. Many live in half-dark basements permanently. There are no stores left in the village, just damaged buildings. Ambulance do not arrive there either. To enter Spartak, one must pass through a military checkpoint.
Some would ask: “Why don’t they flee? Why don’t they rent house or ask a shelter from their relatives, at worst?” Those people have reasons to stay. The first and the major reason is their homes. Many have worked and lived there their whole life. That land is very dear to them; they cannot leave it in such hard times. Others simply have nowhere to go, no one to ask for help or job.
In 2015, bus route was restored and now the children living in the village can reach the school in the neighboring village. Marina, one of the local children, is already 15. She says she felt true horror in 2014. “On that day, on May 26, when war broke out, we were at school celebrating our teacher’s birthday. Then helicopters occurred in the air and we were sent home. We were very scared running home under shelling,” the girl recalls.
Strange as it may sound, she has got used to shelling and hiding in basement. Her life has not changed to better since the beginning of the war despite many decisions on “ceasefire,” “withdrawal of weapons” and “disengagement of the sides” repeatedly made by politicians and diplomats. “Last week, we could not leave basements. They were shelling at us every evening,” Marina says.
The second child living in Spartak, Vika, was not at home on that day. She was at her relatives’ and were to return home later that evening. Her grandmother Valentina Nikolayevna showed us their home – a tiny basement of a not large apartment block where they had a very good apartment until a shell hit and damaged their wall. Fortunately, their family survived, as it reached basement before the apartment was damaged.
The ten-year-old girl living in the basement even has made a tiny “room” there “furnishing” it with her books and toys.
Her grandmother recalls that the year 2014 was the hardest and the most horrific for the residents of Spartak, as Ukraine’s military aircrafts were bombing the area of the Donetsk airport. Friends and neighbors were killed before her eyes every day. “In 2014, a friend of my husband was killed. They lived in Chapayev. Another friend of his was wounded in the head. He was operated on but did not live long. My friend’s husband was killed too. On that day he stayed in the basement the whole day and later in the evening when they stopped shelling for a while he went out to visit his bee yard and a shell exploded just besides him and killed him…” the woman recalls.
She says the people have even made their timetable. “We have used that it is silent in daytime and the shelling begins at about 6:00pm in summertime and about 4:00pm in wintertime. In the basement we can hear clearly what is happening above us, but we are no longer as scared as before,” Valentina Nikolayevna says.
However, sometimes they shell randomly and no one can say at what moment it may happen. “Last week, they shelled day and night. We could not leave basements. Just for a few minutes to take some water and wood and back. The girls stayed at home those days and did not go to school,” the woman recalls.
“They fire meanly,” says another resident of Spartak, Alexander Victorovich, who helps his neighbors whose house was damaged by an anti-tank guided missile a few days ago. He explains what he means by saying meanly: “It is when they suddenly target the village after a long pause that lulls the people into a false sense of security, as it happened last week.” Alexander Victorovich recalls that those days they were shelling round-the-clock. “At about 9 o’clock in the morning, a self-propelled artillery gun and tank targeted the center of the village from Opitnoe,” the resident of the near front village says.
Another resident of Spartak, Svetlana, tells about the “mean” shelling of Ukrainian forces and shows the latest destruction in the village.
“It was a true hell here in late January and early February. In the evenings, they were targeting several points in the village. And you can hear the shelling coming closer and closer to you. A few days ago, my husband and I went to bed at 8:30pm and at 9:30pm, we woke up, as bombardments started. We ran and could hear the roar of bombardments approaching us. When it nearly reached us and somewhere very close to us everything exploded and crashed, we ran to another place, hid there waiting for the bombardments to approach us again. Thanks God, we escaped it, as they began bombarding at another direction. If they threw down some more bombs, we would not be alive today,” the woman recalls.
She says her husband later went outside to clean snow and a metal “flechette dart” went through his husband’s metal spade. Svetlana supposes that the shell that exploded not far from them was stuffed with such “darts.”
“I cannot understand why all this is happening to us? Is this because we stay at our land and did not flee? I was born here and I have lived here for 48 years leaving nowhere. My daughter was buried here. My home is here and her body rests here. Where should I leave? What for?” the woman asks in despair.
The woman whose house was damaged by a self—propelled artillery gun, her name is Svetlana too, hospitably calls us inside to warm ourselves, like everyone in Donbass does, and makes instant coffee pouring water from a kettle on an old woodstove. Anna Fedorovna, her mother, pensioner and disabled woman, tells what she has suffered and experienced during that war.
“Every day there is a red glare over the village. Blasts and roar. We cannot bear it any longer! Drink your coffee, dear,” she says interrupting her story for a second. “We are scared. My eye does not see. I have glaucoma and cataract, but I cannot call a doctor. They are shelling constantly here. No ambulance will arrive here. One day I could not breath…We called ambulance at about 4 o’clock, it arrived at 9 o’clock and it was not ambulance, but emergency service,” the woman complains desperately.
“What do you think, when will peace come to Donbass?” I ask. “I have no idea. We will hardly reach that day,” she says.
For her daughter Svetlana like for many other residents of the village war began on May 26 2014 when the airport was bombed. “I worked at airport. Early in the morning, they called me saying not to go to work. It was very frightening when an aircraft started bombing. We were in despair, as we could not realize how our people could turn so merciless. It was a true shock for us,” Svetlana recalls.
Svetlana and her mother hope for peace, but their hopes do not come true for several years already. “We were so stressed when shelling intensified again in February. Only our belief in God has been saving us. We pray day and night. You can see icons everywhere here,” she says pointing at the room.
In the meantime, shelling and bombardments in Spartak continue. You can hear that from summary reports too. The people mentioned in this story are in constant danger. They may be killed at any moment. It was reported today that Ukraine’s armed forces again used 122mm and 152mm artillery against the village. For the residents of Spartak, this means more destructions, more sleepless nights in basements and another, the third already year of fight to survive through endless nightmare…
Kristina Melnikova, Donetsk