By Aleksandr Mykhaylenko translated by OLGA MAGALETSKAWatch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)
Aleksandr Mykhajlenko (Donetsk, 1978), achieved a Master’s degree (1999-2005) in Russian philology from the National University of Donetsk. Since 2015 he works as a journalist for the “Gazeta” in Kiev.
Ukraine’s children of war
Donetsk, August 2015. I am talking to Tetiana Nosach, the head of nongovernmental public organisation called “Mother and child centre”.
“Our organization is old and we keep working with Ukrainian documents, we are not cooperating with the DPR. That’s why we are afraid that the authority of the so-called Republic can dispossess the building of our centre, the same way they have done to other organisations. We are afraid because in our centre there are mothers with small kids who have nowhere to go or need help. Recently, for example, the maternity ward of one of the city’s hospitals was about to discharge a mother with her newborn, but due to her bad sanitary conditions it was impossible so she had to be hospitalised. We were asked to take her to our centre.”
One of the main problems now is that children born after the start of the war in the DPR and LPR cannot get legal documents.
“Till nowadays birth certificates in Donetsk were registered using Ukrainian forms and Ukrainian stamps, – Tetiana Nosach explains. – Yet they are not in State Register and therefore not valid. They cannot be issued in territories that are under Kiev’s control. In the Ministry of Social Policy we raised such questions as “What should people who gave birth to a child here do? How could they get legal documents?” It was found out that they should go to the territory under control with medical certificate about birth and register there. Yet as new authority demanded, all hospitals have re-registered and now all medical certificates bearing DPR stamps. Even though you can bribe a doctor to put an Ukrainian stamp on the certificate, they will have the ones hospitals used before the war.”
Moreover, it is really hard to reach Kiev-controlled territories. Before the war it took 2 hours by car to get from Donetsk to Mariupol (the closest big city near Donetsk, under Kyiv’s control). Now it can take the whole day, as you should wait for a long time for documents verification under the burning sun. Yet nobody guarantees the medical aid in case child faints away. Because of these difficulties many people decided to stay with their kids in the DPR territory, although there is a risk to be injured or even killed during artillery and mortar firing of war.
Tetiana Nosach continues: Along with some psychologists we gave lessons to children during a summer camp. The group consisted of 8 and 9-years-old kids. One of the tasks was to draw a picture. There were three boys, who sat side by side and they were drawing themselves. The one who finished first drew his house, himself, his sister and parents and he signed the picture “I want peace.” Boys next to him had pictures with weapons and tanks. The first one was looking at their pictures for a minute and then started to hit his picture with the pencil and kept saying “And here go projectiles! Machine guns! Rocket launchers!” He ruined his picture. This story is a brilliant example of what is going on with the child’s psyche if he or she is staying in an active military war zone.”
“Every month I go to the Kiev-controlled territory, – Tetiana Nosach goes on. – And every time I go back to Donetsk, I buy a lot of medicine and not only for mums with kids who live in our centre. In one of the Donetsk maternity hospitals there is a department for prematurely born babies and it desperately needs medicaments as well. If those preemies don’t have treatment in time, they may become invalids. Yet the necessary medicine is very expensive. One week treatment may cost few thousands UAH for one newborn – by pre-war prices. We collected money from social networks, and then I bought medicine in Kiev-controlled territory and carried big bags by bus, but now Kiev authorities restrict medication import. This July we loaded a car with medicaments and decided to go through Russia, although it takes much more time. Besides, Ukrainian citizens who enters Donetsk or Luhansk through Russia violate the state border. Still we have no other choice as it is the only way to bring the medicine here.”
War, healthcare and children at risk
Yevhen Shybalov, volunteer: “We have a very difficult situation with meds here. From the beginning of the war they became too expensive and you cannot find many of them in drugstores, like very often there are no such simple things as syringes. We try to bring anything we can from Kiev-controlled territories, but it’s not that simple. Kiev authorities officially banned the transit of huge medicine consignment. Recently, I carried by car special meds from Mariupol for preemies. I hided them under dirty potatoes, so that soldiers would not have desire to rummage in the trunk.
“Our volunteer organization worked with a mental hospital, situated not far from the area of active fighting. Security protocol of international missions in war zones does not allow them to go there. “Medicines sans frontiers” deliver medicine there through us. In November 2014 Ukrainian government ordered to evacuate the institution. The head doctor sent the inquiry to the Ministry of Healthcare about what to do with the patients. They are socially non-adaptive and cannot be left unattended. Yet there was no answer and every doctor had a choice to make. Is it possible to leave a patient? Many doctors stayed, and some of those who have left, came back after. The situation is similar with schools, orphanages and other budget institutions.”
Few months ago, a preschool orphanage reopened in Kyibushiv area – one that has been mostly targeted by the war. I approach the door, thinking about whether I should tell that I am a journalist from Kyiv. It is forbidden for Ukrainian journalists to work on the territory of DPR and there were cases of taking them hostage. Blonde, stately woman over 60 in glasses came out from the tidy three-storey house. This is Raisa Andriivna, orphanage headmaster.
– Who are you looking for? – She scans me with suspicion.
– Sorry, didn’t mean to scary you, – I tell her. – I am Donetsk citizen, here is my passport. Russian volunteers ask me to find out what your orphanage needs.
– I am not going to go to the customs again! – She says loudly with indignation in her voice. – Last time I had to go there by myself to take the goods from volunteers. Russian border guards disordered everything. I argued with them that those goods are for orphanages. I am not going to humiliate myself like that anymore!
– Do you get anything from Ukraine?
– No, the “Republic” has been paying our salary. Now it’s regular, although there are still arrears for last year.
– What are you in need for? Most of all?
– Light bulbs. And also bandages and milk. While it was cold, we got milk form Saint-Petersburg. It is hot now and they cannot bring it fresh even from Rostov-on-Don. (The distance from Rostov to Donetsk is ten times shorter than from Saint-Petersburg.)
There is a school in Leninsk area of city of Donetsk whose roof has been hit by a projectile last year. The newspaper asked me to take new pictures of the destruction in the city. There is a crane near the school, a pile of broken bricks on the ground. The roof is already covered, most of the windows are new and they are plastic. Still I can see three empty holes upstairs with black marks of fire on the edge. While taking pictures I catch with the corner of my eye a 40 years old woman wearing working overalls, she’s watching me and then coming closer. I hesitate for a second and walk towards her.
– It is because of the camera? – I ask.
– Yes. – She pauses and scans my face. – Who are you and why are you taking photos?
– I am the citizen of Donetsk, but from the other area. Here is my passport. – I give it to her; she takes it and reads almost every page. Then she looks at the photo, than at me, and again at the photo. – I just want to provide my friends with the evidence that the school is being rebuilding. – I explain. – You’re doing the right thing checking the documents. – I try to make my words sound more confident and warm. – You never know who I am. If I were you, I’d do the same thing. – Then she gives me my passport back.
– Our governance monitors it very strictly. – She’s still looking at me with distrust and I go away.
I have walked one hundred meters and reached the turn to see her still standing there and watching me. Among the supporters of so-called DPR there is widespread fear about Ukrainians spies. They are believed to take photos of civilian objects for Ukrainian army to locate and hit them with artillery.