Following our visit to the training centre we were told by our friend Nastya of a house near her’s that was bombed the previous evening, apparently that nights bombing had been pretty severe and the last barrage had damaged several houses near where she lived.
We found the correct bus and headed out to Nastya’s house. It was another warm welcome from her family as we entered her apartment, she checked the location and we set off in the direction of the bombed out house. We had not expected what we saw when we arrived, the main charge of the 3 shells that landed had fortunately hit a nearby house in the compound and utterly destroyed it. The owner shouted at us out the window as we surveyed the damage. He came down and was eager to show us the rest of his devastated property.
He showed us through into his attached garage which was a scene of utter carnage. His young daughter played amongst the ruins of his car as he explained where the shell pierced the roof. She was too young to understand and so spared the realisation of what had happened.
He then gestured for us to follow him into his main house, he led us upstairs and showed us how shockingly close 2 large pieces of shrapnel had come to his sleeping children, 2 inches lower and both of them would have been dead. In his room another large shrapnel hole had punched through at the point where his head would have been laying had he not been sleeping next to his children. This was a shocking demonstration of the destructive power of the shelling and the human lottery of living in Donetsk.
The holes behind from shrapnel passing within a few inches of the sleeping family.
He continued to show us through his shattered home, the impact of a shell was not just related to the shrapnel and explosive damage. The concussion blast shattered windows and tore off the flimsy metal roof on parts of his house. In the garden, accompanied by a ferociously barking dog, we were shown a massive crater caused by another errant shell. This had blown down the fences of several houses each side.
He then led us around the neighbourhood to show us other impact sites from the same night all in close proximity to his house. There were many in a rough line running along the railway track each one had done extensive damage to the nearby properties. We wound round the dirt road until we were met by 2 separatists in a 4×4. Our guide explained that we were British filmmakers. “I don’t give a fuck who they are, we will smash their cameras.” Replied the separatists in Russian. Sure enough a few minutes later they pulled up and demanded to see our documents. After they were satisfied they insisted we go 5 km south if we wanted to see real action as whilst filming we had heard more shelling nearby, we could see the smoke rising in the distance.
Nastya then gave us a short interview during which she explained that during the shelling the previous night a woman had told the rest of the people in the shelter that a DNR representative had called her to say the shelling had stopped and they could go home. This is a disturbing development as the separatists inside knowledge of Ukrainian shelling patterns could suggest a certain level of complicity between the two factions.
Nastya’s mother had told her she saw a shell coming from the centre of town which if true would mean that it had come from the Separatists within the city shelling the outskirts themselves. The confusion about who was shelling who was a constant topic of conversation within the city, the fact that some people did not even know who they were getting hit by is a good representation of the nature of this conflict.
After returning to the centre we met Katya, who had arranged a meeting with a 65 year old pro Ukrainian lady who insisted on staying in the city. As we entered her tiny apartment the first thing we were struck by was a pet crow she had on a table in the kitchen, it turned out it was blind and she had rescued it 3 months previously and nursed it back to health.
After meeting her crow and cat we began the interview in her front room, filled with Ukrainian memorabilia and photos. She stated that she refused to change her opinions despite the fact that she had to sleep at a different address every night to avoid abduction and had to wear disguises if she went out in public. She had received various threats either verbally or via notes pushed under her door, She was a very brave woman who had to be admired for her spirit and refusal to go against her principals.
After the interview we had dinner to the loud accompaniment of the heaviest shelling yet. You could feel there was definitely a change in the atmosphere here.
We decided after strong recommendation and due to the fact we were not insured that we would now try and make our way out of the city. We had witnessed and filmed a lot of interesting things whilst staying in the city but with Ukrainian independence day looming we decided to try and get back to Kiev to film the celebrations. However with the train line now not functioning it was not going to be easy.