Original: Spookstad Loehansk: ‘Alleen met een tank kom je er nog door’
Translation from Dutch by: TULIP / Translation edited by @GBabeuf
The citizens of the eastern Ukrainian rebel stronghold, Lugansk, are living in a ghost town. The Army bombards the city with rockets. Nobody knows how many people have died so far. Correspondent Jan Hunin was one of the few who managed to reach the town.
Genadi, commander of the pro-Russian rebels in the eastern Ukrainian town of Perevalsk [a town adjoining Alchevsk, straddling the road between Lugansk and Debaltsevo -ed.] , is at the end of his tether. In the last two weeks, while a humanitarian disaster unfolds there, no Western journalist has been in Lugansk. Due to the bombardment by the Ukrainian Army the inhabitants are left without water and power. High time the West is notified of this dramatic situation, says the commander. So yes, he would really like to help. Except he does not know how.
Lugansk, the rebels’ eastern stronghold, is almost completely surrounded by the Ukrainian Army. The only way to reach the town is via Russia. The commander takes a map and shows the villages where the enemy is advancing.
“Only with a tank only can you get through,” jokes one of his comrades, an older man. He offers his bulletproof vest: “You’ll need it more than me”.
Well, a tank—we do not have one, all we do have is a discarded Cherry Amulet that for two days in the no man’s land between the front-lines has been trying to find a passage to the besieged town. The one time we thought we had reached our goal we encountered a Ukrainian Army post, and that was bad luck. For Kiev it is better that the outside world does not know what is happening in Lugansk.
A tank would therefore be a good idea; better yet two, since judging by the smoke there is heavy fighting going on in the region. But there is maybe something better than a tank. From Zimogorye, a village to the north of Perevalsk, there is a train to Lugansk and it seems to be going too: the tiny platform is full of people who want to go home. They came here to shop because there is no longer much to be bought in their besieged city.
Indeed, after a stop over in Rodakove, the train drives straight through the front. Occasionally a grenade explodes, but nobody pays attention. All our mines are bombarded, says one of the passengers. From the train there is no trace of the Ukrainian Army to be seen.
So it is that easy to get into Lugansk, and life even appears to be better than expected. “Almost normal,” according to a taxi driver at the railway station.
But of course the situation is not normal. About half of its 500 thousand citizens have left Lugansk, and those who have remained do not dare to leave their homes. The whole town lies deserted. Before the driver passes his first living being, there are already two kilometres on the teller. Those he passes are inhabitants searching for water. After the power plant was bombed out water has to come from tankers or self-drilled wells: seventy years of communism has made the people resourceful.
Only at the administration building, where the government of the local Peoples’ Republic has its headquarters, is there more bustle. And of course in front of the fire station in Gagarin Street, the only spot in town where mobile phones still have a little bit of coverage. Dozens of inhabitants are calling friends or relatives from there.
Of course it is not comfortable to go outside when your town is under fire. There is a continuous rumbling, usually far away, at times more close, and very occasionally it is very close, as it was during the guided tour by Alexander, a rebel commander who, in spite of his nickname (“Spider”), was kindness itself. While in the vicinity of the monument to the heroes of the Second World War, while studying the effects of a grenade strike, suddenly a deafening noise bursts out. We aren’t shot at, are we?
No, fortunately not; that was the rebels who a hundred metres away are unleashing their “Stalin’s organ”. One by one the rockets whiz from their Katyusha launcher. “Quick, get out,” Alexander calls, “before they start shooting back.”
Which they do, unfortunately for the Lugansk inhabitants, all too often, and with devastating results. For two months, day and night. In every street can be found a building with a hole in it. Sometimes you get lucky, like Valentina Uspon, who was just sitting and chatting with her neighbour when a missile hit her home. Mostly things end worse. At the corner of the street an artillery barrage killed thirteen people in one fell swoop last month. Burned up candles stand on the spot.
How many victims the shelling has caused until now is hard to say. Alexander, the commander, estimates at least a thousand, but reliable figures are not available. All that is certain is that there are too many. In the hospital, which was itself bombarded, there are many wounded from the shelling.
Photographer Jerome Sessini traveled along with Jan Hunin to Lugansk. His photos can be seen here.
Original article by: Jan Hunin 12-8-14—09:29