Donbass stories – Little Liza

by Giorgio Bianchi

Mostly ignored by the Western media, war in the Ukraine has continued without pause. Despite the signing of the second Minsk protocol there are still artillery attacks on the villages on the outskirts of Donetsk and all along the front line. Spartak, Pesky and Avdiivka, to name just a few, are now ghost towns, reduced almost totally to rubble and largely abandoned. Most of the population has moved abroad or found refuge with friends or acquaintances in Donetsk. Unfortunately some were unable to flee, either because they had no one with whom to take refuge, or because their paperwork was not in order. The lack of proper paperwork is a common problem for many living within the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). Ukraine’s law requires the periodic renewal of passport photos to maintain the validity of its passports. Those who were unable to update their photos before the conflict started now face the dilemma of having to go through the frontline, which serves as a de facto border, in order to renew their passports with the authorities in Kiev; but in doing so they face being turned back or even arrested. For those caught up in this situation and deprived of their means of livelihood the only option is to be assigned a room in an evacuation centre. There are many of these in Donetsk and between them they house thousands of people. Typically, these centres are tower blocks dating from the Khrushchev era and which have had many uses over the years: housing estates, hospitals, and university halls of residence. Evacuees are assigned a room, the size of which depends on the size and composition of their family groups. They cover a wide social spectrum, from families with children, to the elderly (including WWII veterans), wounded soldiers and political refugees. Each of them has a story to tell, for the most part about loved ones and places they abandoned in panicked haste because of the bombardments. The kitchens, bathrooms and showers are all communal, interspersed among the rooms on the corridors of each floor. There are rooms for washing clothes and hanging them to dry as well as areas for children to play. Every room is a small world filled with furniture, electric appliances, daily necessities, books and memories, because each room now holds their occupants’ entire lives. Little Liza lives in one of these rooms with her grandmother. In January 2015 her family fled their home in Spartak, a small village on the outskirts of Donetsk, to find refuge in the city away from the intense bombardment of their hometown. The very next month their house was almost entirely destroyed by just such an artillery barrage. Since then the family moved several times until it was decided to lodge the little girl with her grandmother in one of these rooms allocated by the government for refugees from the conflict, while her parents sought temporary refuge with relatives in Russia. Liza, who recently turned 9, attends a nearby primary school along with all the other children in the evacuation centre, where she spends all of the morning and part of the afternoon. After lunch in the school canteen she returns to her room where she often has her friends over to play or do homework. Three times a week she goes to the nearby “House of Culture” where she is learning traditional dance. Her greatest dream is that her family might be able to return and live together again in their home in Spartak (Text by Giorgio Bianchi).