Everyone defines for himself whether this is a blessing or a misfortune to be born on our land. In any event, when this takes place, Man awakens easier
For over two weeks Donetsk has been under severe shelling and strikes. Previously, single shells were fired, but now Grad MLRS are used in addition to the usual 155 mm guns. The enemy targets the center of the city, sporadically shelling 5-10-20 missiles to various locations, at different time, day and night.
What it is to end
According to the DPR official structures, the BM-21 Grad and its Czech version RM-70 shell Donetsk from the towns of Tonenkoye, Severnoye, and Lastochkino.
All these are minor towns adjacent to Avdeevka at its west, and they are 7-10 km away from the Donetsk Airport and 17-19 away from the center of Donetsk.
The maximum firing range for most of the high-explosive fragmentation shells for Grad is 20 km. This means that the center of the city is reached almost at the maximum range.
These towns (together with Nevelskoye) are the closest ones to Donetsk among those fully controlled by the Ukrainian army, and the front line now goes near the villages of Pervomayskoye – Vodyanoe – Opytnoye in front of these towns. Previously, all the three villages were Ukrainian positions; this is an elaborate system of underground shelters, communication trenches, and fire nests. Over the 9 months of the special military operation, our army managed to advance for only 3-5 km in this sector.
One could expect that when our army finally takes these fortified areas, the problem of the MLRS shelling of Donetsk will be resolved; however, the villages have a different value: taking them would become a minor step towards the encirclement and cutting off supplies to a powerful Avdeevka fortified area.
As for the shelling, Avdeevka is approximately the same distance from Donetsk. Nothing would stop the enemy from shelling the center of Donetsk from there, be it from the city, or from its industrial area, or from any of its suburbs.
Avdeevka is part of the Donetsk agglomeration; it is an industrial city with a high-rise residential area and a large industrial area. The city has the European largest coking plant and a number of concrete and metals construction materials plants.
In view of our poor progress towards the encirclement of Avdeevka, its liberation in the near future is unlikely.
Therefore, we have no grounds to expect that the enemy will soon become technically unable to shell us unless some new factors interfere.
What it looks like
For the victims of the Ukrainian shelling, for those who lost their family members or homes, this looks like a nightmare. Rather, it is a nightmare. Dozens of people suffer the days when the most intense shelling happens.
For those who is not a victim and who live in the shelled central part of the city, this looks like a sort of a COVID self-isolation. In the high-rise apartment buildings it is more or less safe. If electric power, heating, and the Internet are available, then it is even comfortable. But no one wants to stay in the street in a time like this. Out of the shelter inside the concrete walls the chances to suffer from shelling are dramatically higher.
The public sector employees began to work remotely this week; children do not attend schools for a long time already. Visits, shopping, walking are suspended until better days. In the COVID period, in contrast, there were no travel bans in the DPR. It is a specific atmosphere here.
Sometimes people I know, even from our region, call me to ask whether any undamaged buildings are left in Donetsk. If fact, there are some. Donetsk is a large city, one of the five Ukrainian cities with a million-plus population (including Kiev). It is comparable to Rostov or Chelyabinsk. Over 8 years the city has been shelled; however, apart from the villages adjacent to the airport and some part of the Kievsky region (which is totally ruined), there are no completely destroyed blocks as in Mariupol. Some bedroom suburbs are not damaged by the shelling at all. And in the city center, which is now shelled with Grads, quite many people still live, and there are quite a lot of undamaged buildings.
Except for the suburbs, which have become combat area, no humanitarian catastrophe happened in Donetsk as it happened in Mariupol or in the republic’s villages near the front line, where no one would remove bodies from the streets or an entire city was left without electric power or gas.
The most common damage from the shelling is broken windows. A Grad shell hits near a residential building, or a road, or, less frequently, the roof of one of the buildings. This breaks the windows in one or two high-rise buildings. Usually, not all the windows are broken; the first would break balcony windows and windows in wooden frames, then the ones in plastic frames. The lower stories receive greater damage. Distribution of fragments and shock wave is also a factor. Packing tape applied criss-cross on the windows improves their chances to remain unbroken, a life hack we know from the Great Patriotic War.
As this problem is serious (it is winter!) and widespread, the authorities has a routine procedure for it. There is a service that monitors strike sites to immediately send a mobile group with one or two rolls of thick transparent film to hand it out near the buildings. People from the damaged apartments remove the remaining fragments of glass from the frames, then they take a piece of the film of appropriate size, and they cover the windows themselves.
Another team that comes in a few days consists of men with a crane who use plywood to cover the windows of abandoned apartments from outside, if no one did this before. If there is no access for the crane, they climb from the neighboring apartment to nevertheless protect the heating loop. They have a lot of work now, and sometimes they have to visit the same address several times.
As far as I can see, broken windows are nothing unusual for the people living here: they routinely remove the rubbish, put the film or plywood, and live on. They do not want to replace the window glasses so far.
Another problem is damage to the infrastructure. Sometimes, the heating loop is not covered timely, and then the heating system suffers from shelling thus leaving buildings without heating. In some buildings, heating has not resumed so far.
Electric power can be cut off for half day or whole day because of shelling as the Ukrainian army targets our electrical substations, too.
Water is supplied to districts by rotation once in three days in the evening. This is not bad as all the city people have vessels to keep some water until the next supply. The worst situation is for those how live at higher stories as water height is not sufficient to reach their apartments. They have to fill some water downstairs and carry it up.
When Grads began to be used, booth selling potable water were closed, which is natural as their thin structure cannot protect anyone inside. The shops around have also run out of tap potable water, but bottled water is still available at a 4-fold higher price. The tap water looks and smells bad, and it may be used for hygiene, but it is better not to risk drinking it.
Another everyday discomfort is that life completely stops when darkness falls every night. At 4-5 PM all the municipal services and shops are already closed. If you travel to a nearby town on your own you should travel back in the afternoon, otherwise you will have to stay there. Taxi is not always available because sometimes there are no free cars at all!
Dog owners and their pets living in the areas under shelling suffer because every walk is scaring and should be done quickly. Theaters, museums, the philharmonia, the planetarium, cinemas etc. are also closed.
Some people find leisure activities themselves. One of these days as I was walking fast along the embankment I could not believe my eyes when I saw a man standing on very thin ice fishing in an ice hole.
I think: is he in the right mind? Is it a good time and place for a hobby? But then I stopped myself: he is probably not stupider than me. Do I know anything about his life? He just wants to go fishing today, standing straight, not bending down to the Ukrainian shelling.
Why Donetsk people do not leave
Some people left; those are mostly families with little children.
Many of the elder people stay, and they do not plan to leave in spite of the worsening situation.
According to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Man is a knot into which relationships are tied. People were building relations with the city and with the other people all their life. Just think about it: everyone has here a home, a job, and hundreds of relations – friends, relatives, buddies, colleagues, acquaintances. There are those who need you, and there are those you need. Many have husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers who went to the war. If you leave, who would send a parcel to your soldier? To whom can he come while on a pass?
Also, we who live in Donetsk have acquired a special connection with the city over the past 8 years as we have gone through a lot together with the city and with each other. A touching thing of the recent days is that people who got under shelling write grateful messages in the Donetsk chats open for all the people in the city, e.g. “I want to thank the worker of a shop (bank, cafe, post office) who offered me shelter, let me hide in their cellar, calmed me and gave me some tea…”
One thing is the people from e.g. Kherson who had to move to Russia and to build their lives from scratch at a new place. And a different thing is the people in Donetsk, because we have a choice. This is our city, and all its municipal, social, medical, and other cervices keep working. All this is rapidly integrated into the legal environment of the Russian Federation.
The situation is difficult, not it is clear and predictable. The shelling does not bring as much panic as it did in the beginning. Roughly, this is another risk factor: you can get into a traffic accident or under shelling.
Hopefully, everything will be fine sooner or later. Maybe not this winter, but the Germans (as our soldiers often call the Ukrainians) will be forced away from Donetsk. The front line will move, and other cities will be shelled – until Russia wins.
Donetsk was doomed to first become the center of the anti-fascist resistance and then to be Russia’s westernmost outpost, a besieged fortress city, for more than eight years. We have something to be proud of and something to be ashamed of, but over these years the enemy could not move farther than the city outskirts, where the Donetsk militia repelled them from the airport in 2014.
Everyone defines for himself whether this is a blessing or a misfortune to be born on our land. In any event, when this takes place, Man awakens easier. And when you have awakened, you have a choice of how to think and how to live.
This is a translation of the article by Mariya Ivanova published in The Essence of Time newspaper, issue 512 on December 16, 2022.