MARYINKA, Ukraine -- Nearly two weeks after a major battle in Maryinka that sparked fears of a full-blown offensive, the small village continues to come under almost daily shelling and residents say they are “just waiting to die” in a war nobody knows how to stop.
“What kind of war is this? Nobody even knows anymore,” said 60-year-old Tatyana, who broke down in tears while listing her frustrations. “And the people fighting don’t care about what happens to us. We spent two days hiding out with no food after the battle, thank God some volunteers brought us bread. There are sick people here, elderly people who can’t leave, and who is thinking about them?”
Like all other residents in the besieged village, Tatyana was angry – at the media, at the government, at the invisible faces launching constant attacks. She and other residents declined to give their full names because they have relatives living on both sides of the front line and fear reprisals for speaking to the press.
Tatyana said she felt abandoned in the ongoing war, that Maryinka got international attention only after the June 3 offensive, in which Russian-separatist forces tried to seize the town. But even the brief burst of headlines about that battle has done little, if anything, to alleviate the plight of ordinary residents who have found themselves in the crossfires.
Seventy-three-year-old Nina barely escaped with her life in the shelling on June 3. She continues to live in her bombed-out home, the entire kitchen obliterated and other rooms in shambles.
“Thank God, I was in the other room when it happened,” she said. “The only thing keeping me alive at this point is the grace of God,” she said, adding that she was a devout church-goer and continues to attend mass despite constant fighting.
“There are probably about a dozen other people here who still go to church. Even the church has been damaged by shelling, but we still gather there on Sundays,” she said.
“I just want someone to help me with my home. But no one will. Will you help me?” she asks two Kyiv Post reporters, before shrugging and saying, “See? No one can help me.”
Ukrainian soldiers defending the town were equally exasperated with the non-stop fighting.
Sasha, a soldier of the 28th brigade, took part in fighting in the June 3 battle, crawling away to safety after being surrounded. He said he’d enlisted in the war because he felt guilty knowing that many of his peers were risking their lives while he was living a peaceful life away from the front.
After a short stint in the hospital, he returned to Maryinka on June 13.
“There will still be a million offensives,” Sasha said. “This war is nowhere near over. They need to find a solution: either take back the occupied territories or let them go. But right now they don’t know what to do, so we’re just waiting.”
Many other fighters expressed anger at what they described as politicians using the war to stuff their pockets and expand influence.
“Why is this war happening? What is the real reason for this war? Money,” said Kubinets of the 28th brigade. “It’s a war for spheres of power. They’re earning money on us, on the army. This is a war between political oligarchs. The Russians are not our enemies – the politicians are. The Russians are just our opponents.”
He said he’d gotten more help from volunteers than from the Ukrainian military, relying on volunteers to provide proper uniforms and equipment.
“They shoot at us every single day here, all day, into the night. Not a day goes by without fighting,” said Vova of the 28th brigade. “They use heavy artillery, mortar launchers, you name it,” he said, briefly disappearing into the bushes to listen to the sound of shelling growing louder and louder.
“It’s getting closer, you guys need to go, seriously, get out now,” he said before running off.
It was a luxury that Nina, Tatyana and other residents of the village don’t have.
“Where would we go? We have nowhere to go. All we can do is sit here and endure the explosions and wait till they finally kill us. We are literally waiting to die here,” said Tatyana.
“When the shelling starts, of course, we start to panic. But where can we go? We’ve only stayed alive thanks to a miracle,” said Lyubov. “We’re just ordinary Ukrainians. Who is it that wants us dead?”
“All the shooting goes through us. If the town comes under attack, we are under fire. And when our soldiers fire back, that goes through us too. We’re caught in the middle,” pensioner Maria said.
Despite persistent artillery fire throughout the day on June 13, members of the 28thbrigade seemed unfazed. Sniper fire from separatist positions evoked little more than a stream of curse words and shrugs from the fighters in the trenches.
One of them, who identified himself only as Dima, barely batted an eye as his fellow fighters struggled to figure out where the sniper was shooting from.
“This? This is a quiet day,” he said.