Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
Journalists from the Federal News Agency received an exclusive opportunity together with a Ukrainian POW to walk throughout Donetsk and ask him some questions.
Donetsk. Summer Sunny day. The city lives its usual life, people are coming or going about their business, some are just walking around the city, some walk with children at the playground. In short, in the city center normal life simmers.
On the streets, in the general stream of cars, there is an unremarkable car with a very unusual passenger – Ukrainian soldier-prisoner Pavel. Not so long ago, on July 15th, 2016, he was arrested by members of the DPR army in the area of Marinka, near the Donetsk People’s Republic military positions.
The military story of the commander of the reconnaissance platoon of the 10th separate mountain assault brigade, UAF Junior Sergeant Yurbash Pavel Yuryevich began with the signing of the contract for service in the 8th territorial battalion in 2014, but without permission to join the so-called anti-terrorist operation, as he didn’t previously complete conscription. And Pavel, in his own words, didn’t want to fight, so he decided to join the territorial defence to serve his region. Pavel is a native of the Chernivtsi region, and lives in one of villages of the Putyla district. It must be mentioned that for a long time he really he was serving far from the frontline, but two months ago without warning he was transferred to the ATO zone, which was a breach of contract by the command of the Ukrainian army.
During the visit to Donetsk, Pavel visited different areas of the city: the center, the Kievsky district, near which lies the front line. Kievsky district is one of the districts in the capital of the DPR most affected by Ukrainian artillery. We drove up to one of the houses, where the entrance was being repaired. On the walls of the house facing the frontline, marks of shelling were seen.
In Donetsk alone there are hundreds of such houses. Some buildings have already been restored fully, like, for example, school No. 33 in the Leninsky district, which at the end of summer 2014 only the walls remained. Now, looking at this completely restored school, it’s hard to believe that less than two years ago it was practically destroyed by a fire that occurred as a result of Ukrainian shells hitting it.
I found on my phone photos of the school before its restoration and showed Pavel so that he could see what it looked like after the shelling of the army, in which not long ago he was fighting in.
Over the course of our visit in Donetsk, I asked Pavel a few questions. I was interested how ordinary residents of Ukraine are, his countrymen to the war, what the mood in the ranks of the Armed Forces is like, where he served.
“People don’t want to fight. They have already had enough. Prices of everything have risen very sharply, and wages have remained the same. On average, 2000 to 3000 hryvnias. The prices are very high — for apartments, and everything else,” said the interlocutor to the FAN correspondent.
Prices in Ukraine, indeed, have increased. You could even say that the increase of prices and tariffs have become factors of moral pressure on the Ukrainian military. People began to understand that while they are on the frontline and are waging this incomprehensible war, the oligarchs who came to power are robbing their families.
Pavel also noted that the decrease in the morale of the troops is because of the systematic violations by central command of its commitments. The question about the fifth wave of mobilization was very painful for him, as soldiers that should have long ago gone home are still on the frontline.
I was also very interested in the issue of the provision of money allowances and food to the Ukrainian Armed Forces; if all of Petro Poroshenko’s promises were fulfilled: “Salaries are not paid in full. What is paid is very easily withdrawn. Literally for the slightest error wages can be reduced to a minimum, to the net salary somewhere in the region of 700-800 hryvnia”.
Pavel told me that he was getting paid around 2500-2700 hryvnia – sometimes even 2900 hryvnias. New year’s salary was more.
“Since the moment we came here, to the “ATO”, I still haven’t received my salary. Maybe the guys already received it, but I didn’t,” said Pavel, stating that when they were in Popasnaya, the salary was raised to 5000. Why his “ATO” salary wasn’t paid, Pavel does not know. He also added that whenever he asked this question, the Commander remained silent.
Providing the army is almost on the shoulders of volunteers. Food, toiletries, and even the uniforms are still provided by volunteers, though it’s no longer at the same levels as previously. The army issues a uniform, but the quality is disgusting. The clothes are very quickly torn. You have to ask volunteers about supplying high-quality military uniforms, or to buy it at their own expense. Of course, morale in such circumstances is not improving.
Things are no better with weapons and equipment. Weapons are old, and equipment is preserved. It breaks all the time, we have to repair it, using the personal money of the military personnel themselves. It was like that with the UAZ, which Pavel drove. Sometimes they bought fuel at their own expense. Writing-off fuel expenses goes strictly by the factory technical characteristics of the truck, without taking into account the actual state of armour, the age of which exceeds sometimes 50 years, and fuel consumption is just unpredictable.
Before the war, Pavel did not go beyond his region, he was in Donetsk for the first time.
We are standing near one of the beautiful high-rises located in the Kievsky district. In the hot summer of 2014 there was a direct hit, and the walls of the house still keep the memory of Ukrainian shelling. Pavel looks at this house, where the facade is riddled with shrapnel. He already knows that the shells also arrived at the children’s playground, which is nearby.
Not far from there, there is another house that also received damage during those terrible days. The direction from which Ukrainian mines and shellswere were coming from in the Kievsky district is also known to Pavel. That way is Donetsk airport, where units of the Ukrainian army are still here, and periodically shell the outskirts of Donetsk. But the former soldier of the Ukrainian army doesn’t know only one thing: why his army is shelling the city. It was obvious that he was trying to find an answer to this question, but couldn’t.
“We were told that there are Russian troops, and that we have to liberate our land from the invaders,” stated Pavel, repeating the words of Ukrainian propaganda, which has washed the brains of Ukrainians.
We return to the parking lot to the car. Not far from us a wedding procession is passing by. People live their normal life, get married, have a baby. Despite the war the people in the city continue to build their lives. At the same time, everyone understands that at any moment, especially on the outskirts of the city, adjacent to the frontline, this life can end. This kind of feeling is quite familiar to the inhabitants of Ukrainian cities, such as Chernovtsi. However, we in Donetsk are also trying to drive those thoughts away from us, but they come back every evening, as if it is on schedule, simultaneously with the Ukrainian shelling.
Captured Ukrainian soldier sees the realities of what is happening in the city with his own eyes . Probably, it is difficult to imagine the condition in which he finds himself at this moment. Except for the fact that he is a prisoner of war, he tries to understand everything that is happening to him. Because everything that he knew about Donetsk before his captivity, he knew only from Ukrainian media propaganda or rumours coming from the same place.
Sooner or later, Pavel will return to his native village where his parents and his fiance are waiting for him, and will talk about the Donetsk that he saw with his own eyes, and not the one that is shown on local TV channels.
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