TORETSK, Ukraine — Angry residents of Toretsk, a city of 70,000 people in Donetsk Oblast, were pushing small carts filled with plastic bottles to shops and wells to get water on Nov. 26, as the war zone city was suffering its fifth day without water supply.
A shell fired from the Kremlin-backed separatist territories on Nov. 22 destroyed a water pipe supplying Toretsk.
The city’s authorities announced the state of emergency and admitted they can do nothing to fix the pipe rupture as long as shelling continues.
The mining city is located just 20 kilometers from separatist-held Horlivka and 60 kilometers from Donetsk. It suffered much destruction as a result of shelling between the Russian-separatist forces and Ukrainian government forces that have been at war since 2014.
Over the 2.5 years of war, Toretsk has already been disconnected from a water supply at least three times. In February, the city was left without water for 19 days.
“It will be good if they restore the water supply by the middle of December,” said Borys Beseda, 62, a retired coal miner.
He came to a water well with four big large plastic bottles placed in a self-made cart.
“There’s a concrete water pipe, three meters underground, it’ll be hard to fix it,” he added.
The authorities say it will take at least three days to fix a rupture in the pipe between Toretsk and Horlivka. But no one would risk going there without guarantees of ceasefire from the separatist side.
Sergiy Vinnyk, who is performing duties of the city mayor after Toretsk Mayor Volodymyr Sleptsov was arrested in August on separatism charges, asked the Joint Center for Control and Coordination formed by Ukrainian and Russian military in Soledar to arrange a temporary cease-fire. But so far, the sides couldn’t agree on that.
Donetsk Oblast Governor Pavlo Zhebrivsky ordered water carriers and fire extinguishing trucks to Toretsk to supply residents. But it’s not enough, locals say. They often have to spend hours in lines to get some water from the government-organized trucks.
People living on the last floors of apartment buildings started using water from the heating batteries for domestic needs, which may end up with a collapse of the central heating system ahead of winter.
Most of the residents have to get the drinking water by themselves, buying it or bringing from several wells located on the outskirts of the city. The angry moods are raging.
“The separatist supporters became more active in the social networks over the last days, trying to spark anti-Ukrainian moods,” said Andriy Grudkin, an activist for Your New City, a local pro-Ukrainian group.
Meanwhile, some 600,000 people living predominantly in separatist-held parts Luhansk Oblast risk to lose the water supply starting December over huge debts for electricity accumulated by the Popasna Water Channel, a state utility company.
This enterprise services the separatist-controlled Pervomaisk, Alchevsk, Stakhanov, Brianka and part of Luhansk city as well as government-controlled Popasna, Zolote, Krymske. The separatists that took over these cities haven’t paid the water bills since the beginning of the war.
In September, Luhansk Energy Association company, controlled by Russian-Ukrainian oligarch Konstantin Grigorishin, partly cut off the electricity for Popasna Water Channel. The electricity supply was restored when the International Committee of the Red Cross decided to pay $700,000 to cover part of the state company’s debt.
But that money was only enough for the water supply to last untill the end of autumn.