Today I have this post from the RIA news agency, the reporter is David Narmania.
Readers will recall that, a week or so ago, the Donbass town of Soledar was officially declared “Liberated” by the Russian army. It was one of those cases, so typically sad in this war, where, to paraphrase American military commanders during the Vietnam war, “the town had to be destroyed in order to be saved.” In a word, artillery duels between Russians and Ukrainians have destroyed the town. That, plus, Ukrainians being wantonly destructive and wasting precious ammo just to get even with incalcitrant and disloyal locals; as is their wont.
Despite the destruction, and the fact that civilians were supposed to evacuate, some stayed in their homes. As some always do. This is their story. How they survived the ordeal, and how they greeted the incoming Russian troops.
The Ukrainians, to their credit, did urge the civilians to evacuate while the town was in play. But unlike the Russians, who allow people to go wherever they please when evacuating, be it to Russia or deeper into Ukrainian territory, the Ukrainians only allow civilians to go to Ukraine-controlled territory. Which can present an issue for people who (a) don’t have relatives in those parts, or (b) don’t speak the local dialect; or (c) don’t want to be conscripted into the Ukrainian army (males up to the age of 65). It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t: Those Donbass residents who refused to evacuate, the Ukrainians deem as “pro-Russian”, or “collaborators” to their way of thinking, and then feel justified in harming them or just wantonly shelling their homes for fun and games.
Local resident Angelica Yeremina: “This whole thing started in earnest back in July. But even before then, the Ukrainians had a bad habit of shooting up our homes. And they didn’t particularly try to hide what they were doing. They would shoot a house, then come up all innocent to mock us: Oh look! A hole in your wall, what a shame! And we were aiming for the boiler room. Sorry about that!”
[yalensis: My best guess. I think these Ukrainian soldiers were mocking the pro-Russian residents and making a vengeful political point; alluding to the Russian practice of targeting infrastructure, including “boilers” and heating facilities, as part of their attempt to shut down Ukrainian logistics.]
A portion of the residents had evacuated already back in spring. Those who remained were dubbed “collaborators” by the Ukrainians. Soledar resident Oleg Yamnenko: “Seeing that we didn’t want to leave, the Ukrainian soldiers would say threatening things to us: What? You are waiting for the Russian Civilization to arrive? Fine, that’s what you’ll get. They implemented a curfew. Then they would roam around the streets, patrolling for so-called artillery spotters [for the Russians]. For example one night, around midnight, they caught and beat up two guys who were trying to return to their flats after living in a basement for a while. The ideological Ukrainians behaved very crudely. The ones who were just drafted into the army, were much nicer.”
The local residents were warned that, when the Russians arrived, they would kill and rape everybody. [The residents just shrugged and didn’t listen.]
There are no intact homes left in Soledar. Every home was turned into a fortress, and was stormed. This due to Soledar’s strategic position as a transport hub supplying Artyomovsk via the massive railroad station complex called Sol’ (“Salt”). Which was taken by the Russians on January 18.
Even in Sol’ there were civilians hiding out. And they were, indeed, just like the Ukrainians knew, waiting expectantly for the Russian army to arrive.
Alexandra Kitsa, a resident of Sol’: “We even greeted the New Year in Russian style: at 11:00 PM we sat in front of the television and watched Putin’s New Year address to the nation.
“The Russian troops entered our village a week ago. And the first thing they did was to try to remove people who were trapped by the artillery shelling going on. They provided first aid to the wounded, and shared their army rations with the hungry.”
When she saw the Russian soldiers, Alexandra rushed out to greet them, wearing just a light jacket in the cold weather. A soldier immediately wrapped her up in his heavy army jacket. Guided by the soldiers, the residents then proceeded to make short dashes, under artillery fire, from cover to cover. “We were almost there, there was literally 5 meters to go to the next cover, when we were blanketed with shells. I heard someone shout out a command: Get down! I was down on the ground immediately, a soldier quickly covered me with his own body. One of the soldiers didn’t make it, he was killed by a fragment.”
The soldier who had covered Alexandra with his own body – to show her gratitude Alexandra gave him a bracelet which she had once purchased in the gift shop in the Kiev-Pecherskaya Lavra Monastery. “This will protect you.” The soldier accepted the gift and gave her, in return, one of the patches from his jacket.
“We Made Our Choice”
Those residents who were evacuated out of Soledar are currently residing in a temporary refuge. There are almost no men among them. The grown men have been taken away for questioning by the Russians, who want to make sure there are no sneaky “SBU diversionaries” among them. [yalensis: This sounds harsh, but Russia has had her share of Ukrainian terrorists posing as refugees and then planting car bombs or killing people in the rear, so they have to be cautious; although, if it were me, I wouldn’t trust some of the women either, given the Darya Dugina assassination.]
Elena Panchenko is a former resident of Soledar: “I can’t get in touch with my husband or son. It’s not fair, because we made our choice back in 2014, when we voted in the referendum for the Donetsk Peoples Republic. Why would they even think we would have anything to do with the Ukrainian military?” She spreads her hands to show the absurdity of it.
Elena says that she worked for many years at the salt factory “Artemsol”. Her husband worked there too. Their son works as an electrician at the railroad station. His job was to fix the rails after each shelling, a very dangerous occupation. Elena’s only wish is to be reunited with her family as soon as possible and return to their town, and a normal peaceful life. “I just want this to be over.”