Under the surface

By Johan Persson – The Kiyevskiy district of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine was once a densely populated area with schools, kindergartens and a hospital. Now it is subjected to shelling almost daily. 73 year-old Larissa Iosifovna has not lived in her house for three months now. – There is too much shelling, so I have moved down here instead, she says, showing her bed in the old bomb shelter which is now her home. A black stray cat comes up to her, hoping to play. Larissa found it on the street some time ago and has brought it here to keep her company. Larissa is just one of many in the outskirts of Donetsk who are living more or less permanently in badly maintained bomb shelters and basements from the cold war era. Officially, the separatists in the self proclaimed ”People’s republic of Donetsk” and the Ukrainian government have signed a cease-fire. In reality, an average 10 people are being killed every day, and heavy fighting is still taking place just a few kilometers north of the city center. New figures from the UNHCR shows that the number of displaced people now has reached 800 000. That is 170 000 more than at the beginning of September. And winter is soon to come. – We have some heating devices and blankets that we are planning to use during the winter, but the air here is very humid and when it rains the whole room gets flooded. We do not really know what to do, nobody has promised us any help, says Larissa’s friend Valentina Georgievna. The Ukrainian government has frozen all pension and child support payments to the people in separatist controlled areas, and the international NGO:s have left Donetsk due to security issues. Neither are the leaders of the so-called “republic” too keen on discussing the humanitarian situation. 11 year-old Deniis never went back to school after the summer holidays, instead he stays in the bomb shelter in Kiyevskiy with his grandmother. A blast shakes the building as he speaks, but he does not seem to react. – I’m used to this now. It is harder for one-year-old Arina, according to her father Ruslan Poplyko. – When the shelling starts she says ”boom” and wants to hide under the bed.