The war came to Donetsk three years ago, on May 26, 2014. It was then that Ukraine first used airplanes against local civilians. EADaily’s correspondent has asked a number of locals what recollections they have about that day and how the war has changed their lives.
Pavel Chuprina, a cameraman at Life TV channel, who began working as a war correspondent after May 26, 2014:
Late May, 2014, it was the time when some politically conscious people already lived in the Donetsk People’s Republic. I was one of them. I was among those who built barricades and took part in demonstrations. Slavyansk was on fire at that time. The May 2 events in Odessa had already happened. But there was no border yet. And few of us were aware that our self-defenders had entered the territory of the airport on May 25-26 night.
I remember that May 26 was a sunny day. I was surfing the internet to see what was going on. All of a sudden, we heard the sounds of airplanes. Everybody ran outside to see what was going on.
My house was close to Stratonauts Street, in the village of Oktyabrsky. It was very close to the airport’s takeoff strip. I saw battle planes flying in the sky and dropping some fireballs. I was not a military man and at that time, I didn’t know what that was. Later, I learned that those balls were heat traps against air defense systems.
The planes were flying very low. A military helicopter is a big thing and when it is just 20 meters far from you and your house is quaking, you are experiencing quite strong emotions.
The helicopter flew for some time over our heads and then went away. Later, I heard the sound of shots far away. I went to the village shop (it is very close to the airport - EADaily) to see what was going on. People said that there were some snipers there and that they had shot at civilians. I saw an ambulance car taking away a bleeding man.
For a few months from that time on, the airport was controlled by Ukrainian troops. From my window, almost every day, I saw Ukrainian planes dropping parachutes with some sacks and boxes. In the autumn, our forces began liberating the airport.
My house, just like all the houses in the area, suffered from shells. We were not there at that moment. The third shell razed my house the ground.
When the first shell hit the house of my neighbors, I thought there were unlucky. I could not imagine at that time that it was just the beginning and that in the end, we would see our whole village in ruins.
Taxi driver Maksim (his car was under fire for many times):
Our house is one kilometer away from the airport. On that day, May 26, 2014, my son was at school, my wife was at the office. I was at home and saw how helicopters began bombarding the airport. It was something new to us. We all ran outside to watch the scene. Nobody thought at the moment that it was something that could kill. We thought, “They would shoot for some time and then they would come to terms.”
The war has changed my life a lot. My son was forced to change three schools in three years. His first school was destroyed. Our house was also bombed. So, we were forced to move to a safer place. First we moved to my mother’s house but it was also shelled and we were forced to go to another area.
Yekaterina Katina, a model, who began working as a war correspondent when the conflict started:
After May 26, my life turned about. It was like a nightmare. At that time, I had no idea about my future and the future my small republic. But a few days later, Southeastern Front News Agency (now News Front) offered me a job and I agreed.
I remember planes flying over my head and that awful noise. And in the evening, we received reports about people killed near the railway stations, about a KAMAZ full of self-defenders destroyed and about battlers going on at the airport.
Donetsk designer Svetlana Rednikina (she cannot help crying every time she remembers that day):
It was a huge shock for us to know that our own country was using bombs against us. We saw the planes with our own eyes but we refused to accept the truth.
It was not right. In June, they began bombarding the city. We thought it was something like a short eclipse but it was growing like a snowball. In late July, my husband told me to take the children away from the city. I stayed there. I called him later and he told me that Donetsk was empty. It had turned into a phantom city. Once a beautiful city, it was in ruins now.
We went back in September but the bombings continued.
The war has changed our lives, our mentality. It seems that we are in the same city but we are in a different world. We are constantly on alert. We have all become experts on arms. We have learned to discern the sounds of incoming and outgoing bombs. We would rather have no such experience but we were forced to acquire it.
By Kritisna Melnikova, Donetsk