Interview with Dimitry (35) from Lugansk. Divorced taxi driver with two children. His wife with the children remained in Lugansk because they feared to lose their property.
The interview was conducted in mid April 2015 in Odessa, Ukraine. Its transcript is based on audio recordings. All statements therein are from the people interviewed, of course we cannot guarantee their factual accuracy. We conducted a series of interviews which will be published on this blog (within the next few weeks). The intention of publishing these interviews with refugees is to give people who are directly affected by the conflict in Ukraine a voice.
Q. What happened in Lugansk up to the point when you left town?
A. I owned an apartment in the center of Lugansk and a house a 5-minute drive from Lugansk in the region of Lugansk airport. I came home in the summer at the hight of the crisis, when Lugansk was bombed from the air. Bombs went down on residential areas, people died. Walking down the street, I witnessed how a shell detonated and tore off a woman’s hand completely. It was impossible to call the ambulance because at that time the mobile network was down. It was in the late summer [August-September 2014]. Those were the days when the Lugansk regional administration was shelled by phosphorus cluster bombs.
Q. At that time, was the Ukrainian army present in Lugansk?
A. No. There was only the [separatist] militia. One day when I ventured out and tried to drive to the block where my friend lived. At first I did not succeed because of the strong shelling, but the next morning I was able to. To go back was even more difficult due to the heavy fighting. They shelled the airport, the Ukrainian army stormed Lutugino [a village some 10 km from Lugansk] and the militias had to retreat. For about 5 days there was fighting going on [in town], then all was quiet and I decided to get out of the house as there was no electricity, no gas, no water, and the stores had been looted. I got dressed and went to town on foot. Everywhere there were destroyed houses, on the ground lay used bullet casings of various calibers, and also scattered packaging of dried food rations with labels in English. When I reached the positions of the Ukrainian army, they intimidated me not to return to Lugansk as the militia could force me to serve among them. To which I said I am a peaceful citizen and that I was absolutely determined to leave Lugansk. When I left [their post] mortar shelling from both sides started. At this point, I just fell to the ground and waited for the shooting to stop. I took to the road, so that both the militia and the Ukrainian army could see me. When I reached the militia’s checkpoint, they kept me for several hours, then put me into a car and drove me into town. For about a month I lived with a friend and watched from the balcony the constant shelling. During this time I reached the definite conviction that it was time to leave. Vehicles could be seen in Lugansk from around 5-6 until 10-11 in the morning, then life in the city died. Often one could see people living permanently in underground passages.
At that time, the train from Lugansk to Odessa was still running, and when my relatives sent money for the ticket, I immediately left.
Q. How could the relatives send you money? Did banks and ATMs function in that period?
A. No, PrivatBank [the largest bank in Ukraine] then no longer worked. But there were a few places where people using Internet banking privately cashed credit cards for 10% of the amount. It was also possible to find pawn shops in the city which offered similar services.
Q. Were you checked on the train ride?
A. Yes, once at night passengers were checked, their documents and luggage. These checks were not carried out by soldiers but by the police. There were no problems during the ride.
Q. Do you have plans to return some day?
A. Of course, I would like to! But at the moment I think only about how to bring the children here [in Odessa].
Q. Your wife will not mind?
A. I don’t think so, but the main problem is the lack of housing. To date, there would be nowhere to live for them here.
Q. What are your plans for the near future?
A. (Sighs). I now have a health problem and spent some time in hospital here. During this time, I was helped by volunteers with medications. I am very grateful to them, as I can not count on the state anymore. 400 hryvnia [then some 20€] per month is all that I receive from the state. From time to time I work at a construction site where I get 100 hryvnia per day. This money is by far not sufficient, as I spend the whole of it already on public transport and food.
Q. Maybe you have something that you wold like to add?
A. The only thing I want to say is this: may this nightmare be over as soon as possible! I impatiently await the day when my children will be able to get out of the shelter and will not have to fear the next shelling. This is a very terrible sight!
Интервью на русском
translated from the Russian by Zaldizale