We have been extremely busy the last few days so have had to update the blog later than usual. As mentioned we went to the strike site of the air bombardment. Along with a French journalist Emmanuel, who picked us up first thing in a taxi. The site was only about 10 minutes away and we were the first to arrive on the scene.
It was not near any military installations at all and was a scene of utter devastation, the jet had dropped a volley of bombs that had landed over an area of about 100 metres, the road had a massive hole about 15 feet wide and 6 feet deep where a large bomb had impacted. The shockwave had severely damaged 2 nearby buildings and ruptured a main gas line which ran beside the road. This was being repaired in a haphazard way, the workmen could not turn off the gas so when they began welding a fire erupted along the pipeline, luckily they manged to stem the gas flow and it went out. The trees had all been stripped of their leaves and large branches had been snapped off by the force of the blast.
An un-exploded munition had lodged itself deep into the tarmac further down the road and was being expertly extricated by a separatist bomb disposal team. This extrication involved digging right next to the un-exploded device and pulling it out piece by piece, a very dangerous tactic especially considering it was not cordoned off at all.
The next set of bombs had landed in the training park of a driving school, the ground had erupted with their force and it looked like something had burst from beneath the tarmac. A nearby building had it’s entire foundations exposed as the bomb had landed just in front and smashed through to the basement, it was amazing it had not collapsed entirely.
Emmanuel managed to find out that a building merchants about 30 metres away had also been hit, as we entered workers tirelessly shifted the rubble away with adapted forklifts. One of the warehouses facades had been completely stripped off with a direct hit. The owner of the business was obviously upset as many businesses here don’t have insurance and no one else is going to pay for the repairs.
The next site was in a field near a residential block and a train track. The bomb had burrowed 15 feet underground and not actually exploded so we were eager to leave before an errant car set off the explosive nestled beneath our feet.
The bombing seemed to have been a psychological tactic, a way of scaring the population into leaving or pressing for separatist surrender. There was no way they were targeting any military installations as the nearest ones were miles away.
Whilst on our way back to the centre on the bus John noticed a couple getting their car ceased by the seperatists. They had been pulled over and the separatists simply chucked their luggage into the road loaded up their guns and left them standing in disbelief. We had been shocked when Roman and his friends had told us about this however we guess the confiscation of property part of the siege law was accurate after all. Another interesting observation is that most separatists in the city seem to be driving nice cars, if they have the option to take a car for the ‘war effort’ the most expensive ones unfortunately are the first to go.
After enjoying an overly expensive lunch with Emmanuel, we went out meet Sandro. He had found out about a refugee complex near the centre of town which sounded interesting. Sandro had been staying with a girl on the outskirts of the city called Natstya, her and her friend Masha also met us and we headed towards the refugee centre.
There had been mortar fire throughout the city all morning so the girls were a little hesitant to meet us, Nastya lived a little out from the centre and had not left her neighborhood for weeks. However Sandro, with his Brazilian charm, persuaded them to meet us.
Before heading to the refugee centre we stopped off at the Government head office as we had heard they had stopped admitting journalists. It turned out to be fine so we headed to the press relations floor to see if they would be kind enough to print off some documents for us.
When we arrived at the office there was just an old man relaxing in the air conditioned room. After inquiring as to where everyone was he agreed to call and find out. It turned out that they were all in the building’s bomb shelter and would not come out for an hour due to the artillery fire throughout the morning. This made us realize that the separatists were very worried about a direct strike on the centre and it was probably not the smartest place for us to be.
The girls were too afraid to come in the building so we met them in a nearby park to continue on to the refugee centre. The sound of artillery shells landing echoed all around us as we made our way to the refugee centre which was housed in an old soviet tower block.
As we approached there were groups of people gathered on the steps outside the huge building. We entered the dark foyer crowded with refugees trying to arrange space for their families. Sandro approached the administrator, a kindly old man with few teeth, who agreed to help us.
The first port of call was the clothing stock, this room on the 7th floor was chock full of old clothes that had been donated by kindly locals. The piles of clothes were being sifted through by recent arrivals, it was heartbreaking to see a young girl rifle through the clothes to find something suitable to replace the ones she left at her destroyed home. We did an interview with the administrator near the window in one of the stark corridors he was very passionate and explained how difficult it was finding space for the constant influx of refugees.
Following this we were shown to the buildings clinic, ran by 2 kids one boy, 17, and a girl, 23. They administered aid to the predominantly infant and senior population of the building. They had limited supplies and seemed to cure most ailments with tablets and sparkling water. We interviewed them and near the end of the interview a pregnant woman entered with her young child, she was clearly in distress and the sparkling water was administered to her and her little girl, whose face was so full of fear it was quite emotional.
As we were about to leave a separatist entered and sternly asked for our papers, we thought that we were in trouble. Sandro spoke to him and explained what we were doing and he immediately became very helpful. Thankfully Sandro implied we were all Brazilian as the anti European feeling in this building was so intense it was almost palpable.
The separatist introduced himself as Ruslan and with the medic in tow he began proudly showing us around the Building. He managed to get us access to one of the rooms. It was shocking how little space there was with families of 6 sharing a room 8 metres by 2. A mother with 3 young children agreed to be interviewed and explained how difficult it was here. “I left with nothing and now we have nothing” she began to cry and it made all of us take stock of the impact this war is having on the civilian population.
The separatist agreed to do an interview, which was very interesting as he had previously been fighting in Slaviansk before it fell to the Ukrainians. He was passionate about this fight and said that despite what he was fighting for it was a futile war as it was a case of brothers fighting brothers” We are Russian, everyone in Ukraine is better off with Russia.”
As we were taking longer than expected Elliott went to check on the girls who had decided to wait outside. He returned to say that they were now in the lobby as jets had been circling overhead and everyone had been ordered inside for their own safety. It was quite terrifying being inside this dark, dank monolith and hearing the shells rain down outside.
Afterwards we went for some pizza and chatted to the girls to get to know them better, later that night we met Emmanuel to say goodbye as he was leaving the following day. We then spent the rest of the evening with an American journalist drinking beers and trying on his flak jacket.