Two parallel realities: Red Cross employee about her work in Donetsk

Author : Hanna Leskinen

Source : 112 Ukraine

Hanna Leskinen on everyday life in occupied Donetsk
09:17, 2 October 2017

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Day 1 - Arrival to the city of roses

The road took us twelve hours - first we travelled by train, then by car. We have crossed the contact line and safely reached Donetsk (which is currently a part of Donetsk People’s Republic – Ed.). The so called “city of a million roses” is the center of the steel and mining industry. It is going to be my house for the next year. Here I will be the ICRC's public relations delegate.

This is a unique opportunity: I can simultaneously realize my desire to live in countries with different cultures and to be useful to those who need it. As a public relations delegate, I hope to help at least some of those people with whom I will meet, support them, listen to them, to their stories, and help them somehow improve their lives.

Related: Poroshenko, Merkel hold phone talk on UN peacekeepers, Donbas issue

I am always amazed by the kindness of my colleagues from the ICRC: the first evening my neighbor in the apartment prepared a dinner for me, and on the next day, another colleague gave me a tour around the city. Like many local residents, we were walking in the parklands of Donetsk, immersed in roses, enjoying one of the last sunny days. We saw how elderly people danced by the river, children climbed trees and ate candyfloss, tourists took photos of historical buildings and monuments.

It seems that people here are finding ways to live on, although the conflict has significantly changed their lives. The contact line is very close to the city, and in some areas, you can hear the shells rushing at night. I saw thousands of people standing in queues at the contact line checkpoints - and there are mines and unexploded ordnance around these checkpoints. This waiting in a queue might last for hours, despite any whether conditions, but people have no other choice: they need to get to work somehow, visit their relatives, and get the necessary documents (on the territory, controlled by Kyiv – Ed.).

Day 2 - The first days and thoughts in the office

About a hundred of people work here, in Donetsk, mostly local employees. Our other offices are on both side of the contact line: in Luhansk, Odesa, Slovyansk, Mariupol, Severodonetsk and Kyiv.

Related: Donbas illegal groups stop guarding OSCE patrol base in Horlivka

My first week started with numerous meetings and stories about the work of various departments. I have managed to remember only a few names, but the friendly faces of colleagues are becoming more and more familiar to me.

It is impressive when you see how many specialists in different fields are required to work in the humanitarian field. Our drivers are irreplaceable people, especially when we need to communicate with local people and safely get from point A to point B. Colleagues from the administrative department, logistics department, IT and security department - in addition to many other tasks - do everything to make our work go smoothly. Professionals help people, affected by the conflict; engineers, health and economic security experts, forensic experts, specialists in physical rehabilitation and weapons-related hazards. And of course, our leadership, thanks to which our work is coordinated and safe for us and for those whom we help.

Most of all I was touched by the strength and courage of my colleagues from Donetsk, I really admire them. These people have found the strength to help others, although they themselves belong to the category of those who suffered. Some of their friends and relatives left, and it is not always possible to see each other often. I cannot even imagine how exhausted and suppressed are those who lives on both sides of the contact line.

Related: Ukraine to introduce Donbas peacekeepers resolution agreed with foreign partners

Day 3 - First look at life at the contact line

We transported food and hygiene products to people living close to the contact line. It is less than an hour drive from the center of Donetsk. That is how close to the city center the hostilities take place. Sometimes there is a feeling that there are two parallel realities. The city center looks almost normal: shops, restaurants, buses and trams. But if you look closely, you notice that many shops are closed - or they are transformed into cafes or restaurants. The farther you go from the center, the less you see public transport (but more and more damaged buildings).


Related: 7 trucks with humanitarian assistance from international organizations arrived to Donbas

The contrast becomes more noticeable if you talk with people living near the contact line of. One woman told us how odd it was to think that in the central part of the city people go to concerts or to the cinema, while for her and for many others shelling and the long lines at the checkpoints became a "new norm."

Distribution of assistance requires a lot of preparatory work: planning, organization, logistics. I also realized how important it is to here, just listen to people. Although we explain them who we are, what we do, and how to receive the aid, people still have a lot of questions, for example, what documents are needed to receive the parcel. And sometimes they just need to be listened, they want to be heard, they want to share their experiences.

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