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Sartana, near Mariupol, loses lives, property — and hope

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SARTANA, Ukraine -- A 10-year-old girl woke up in a local hospital's intensive care unit to learn that she lost one of her legs in Aug. 16 shelling by Russian-separatist forces.

But that’s not the worst of it.

Doctors will have to tell her that she’s also lost her mother in the same shelling that killed at least four civilians and two Ukrainian soldiers, pushing the death toll in Russia’s war to close to 7,000 victims since the fighting began in April 2014. Several people were also injured.

Another boy from the area lost his parents in the attack, and the fourth victim — a woman born in the village of Svobodnoye — couldn’t even make it to her own funeral: The vehicle carrying her body got stuck at a checkpoint on the way to Svobodnoye on Aug. 18.

The local priest, Father Alexander, was forced to conduct her funeral without the body or mourners, he said.

“People have forgotten that one life is worth more than the entire world,” he said.

Residents of Sartana seemed equally frustrated with the situation, spending most of the day on Aug. 18 cleaning up the wreckage and still struggling to come to terms with what had happened.

“You journalists will never understand what we are going through right now, whether you like it or not. All we have is blood here. That is our life now, blood in the streets,” one woman shouted at Kyiv Post reporters.

She stood on the very same street where one of the victims died just two days ago, a bloodstain still visible on the road.

None of the victim’s identities has been released, but residents said they included the young girl’s mother, a married couple who left behind a son and another woman.

“The little girl was on the road with her mother, they were running along the road to a relative’s house. But they got hit before they made it,” said Sartana resident Vladimir Yakovlev, who was there at the time of the tragedy.

“Her mother was wounded in the stomach and taken to hospital, but doctors couldn’t save her,” he said.

On Aug. 18, doctors at Mariupol’s city hospital number three would say only that the young girl was in intensive care after surgery.

With the death toll now at four and the number of those injured at seven, Ukraine’s military placed responsibility for the attack on Russian-backed separatists in the nearby occupied territory. More than 50 homes were damaged in the attack and the water, gas and electricity supply temporarily cut off.

While Sartana has come under attack previously, residents told the Kyiv Post it had been more or less calm in recent months, and with no military targets in the city, many see the recent shelling as a sign that it’s all downhill from here.

Katya, a middle-aged resident who declined to give her surname because she has relatives on both sides of the war, said she saw the shelling as proof that peace talks have failed.

“Regardless of who did it this time, they fire from both sides all the time. I have no idea who did it this time, there is no way to tell. But they obviously aren’t negotiating with each other anymore. The chance for compromise is long gone,” she said, carrying rubble from a neighbor’s bombed out home.

“The worst part about this is that it’s the ordinary people who suffer — but nobody cares about that. We have no say,” said Yelena, whose mother’s home was destroyed in the recent attack.

“The Minsk agreements are a joke, as you can see the war is still in full swing,” she said.

Yelena said her family was trying to follow her mother’s example by being strong even while under artillery fire.

But her mother, 90-year-old Irina Kamanets, seemed at breaking point.

“Life goes on. I may be old but I’m still living,” she said, looking away to hide the fact she was crying.

This is the kind of joy the conflict has brought to us. Slava Ukraine! And now the whole world can see our glory,” she said.

Once her daughter stepped away, Kamanets’ anger subsided and gave way to a quiet sobbing, followed by a whispered confession that she didn’t seem to want her relatives to hear: “I’m tired. I already survived World War II and now I have to live through another one.”

Staff writer Allison Quinn can be reached at a.caseyquinn@gmail.com

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