On Day 4 of our visit to Donbass, we wake up early in the morning and meet at the lobby of our hotel to continue our journey. We want to take a short street tour and talk to the people, but the streets are empty, the existing people do not want to talk.
Our route is Mariupol. We are advancing by seeing a serious military operation and positions along the way. Before entering the city, we first meet with a new vehicle and security. They will accompany us with their weapons and equipment until we leave. They brought medical supplies with them just in case. All are young and experienced. We ask one of them if they are Chechen. He says “It doesn’t matter, I’m Russian”.
As we enter the city, we encounter traces of very serious conflicts and resistance against the fascist forces. Almost all buildings, parking lots, streets and factories were damaged. The destruction is enormous. But despite this, there is a very intense renovation in the whole city.
First of all, we are going to the civilian settlement area which was targeted and bombed by the Ukrainian army in January. A young man living in that building welcomes us. He explained that only civilians lived in the building and that he was placed in a temporary place. The house materials inside the apartments are still visible from the outside. Carpet, kitchen utensils, fridges. Not only buildings were destroyed, but lives were destroyed. When we stop in front of another building, they call us while we’re filming. There are workers from Turkey who make repairs, for four months employees of a St. Petersburg-based company have been restructuring settlements that can be repaired. They say the destruction is great in the city. They stated that despite the use of bombs that could cause heavy destruction, the columns of the buildings of Soviet architecture remained largely intact. They did not witness any conflict for four months. They also stated that they are restoring the buildings that were affected by the bombing without damaging the exterior structure. Most importantly, electricity, hot water and gas were fully supplied throughout the city, but there were occasional short-term forced outages. Many companies like themselves are repairing thousands of buildings. They openly express their admiration for the solid structures built during the Stalin era. The windows of surviving buildings and newly repaired ones throughout the city have been replaced.
New two floor temporary houses are also being built in the city centre. People will be settled here while their own houses are repaired or when the newly built houses are finished. The public is pleased with this intensive restructuring and also happy that job opportunities are available in the construction field.
We’re on our way out of town. Along the way we continue to see buildings destroyed due to clashes against fascist units.
We arrive at new sites financed by the Russian Central government and the St Petersburg administration. The area around the modern buildings is between the region of the camps where the Nazis were stationed and set up during the conflict. They targeted and murdered those who took to the streets. The Nazis defined the torture centres in the camps they established in these areas as libraries and the people they massacred as books. Bringing the immorality of fascism and the value it attaches to human beings to the level of entertainment shows what kind of an enemy we are facing.
We visit the buildings with narrations by our guides. There are thousands of flats on our site. A new living space has been built to meet all the needs of children’s playgrounds, market and similar needs. The houses were built according to different family numbers. Everything is almost finished. We barrage the authorities with questions. People whose houses have been completely destroyed will be settled in these buildings. No electricity, water or gas bills will be charged for one year. The title deeds of the houses will be given to the families who will stay there, and when they move, they will receive a hundred thousand rubles to rebuild their lives. We ask again and again that we understand correctly that the title deeds will be given without any compensation, and we got the answer yes, every time.
We also talk to the people who have settled in some apartments and they approve of this. Everyone is very happy that they can start a life again.
We are at the train station parallel to the seashore. It was completely destroyed and the trains on the rails were burned. In this region, while the Nazis and Ukrainian soldiers were withdrawing, they laid mines all along the coast, including the beach, and around the railway. They want us to be careful where we step. A Portuguese journalist friend of ours had been to this region before and told us what he had been through. On the way to the news, he witnessed a woman shouting and when they headed there, she stepped on a mine and was seriously injured in her leg. And there are dozens of examples like this in Mariupol.
We are on the way to Berdiansk again. We are invited to a Sanatorium on the way and we take a lunch break here. They serve us the food that the children eat at school. The building is a structure covered with Soviet mosaics.
They’re taking us to a nearby lighthouse. The oldest lighthouse in the Soviet Union. At the door, an uncle who lived in the Soviet era and has been the watchman and caretaker of the place for sixty years welcomes us. He states that he lives there with his entire family. We go to top of the lighthouse and witness historical moments. It was renovated after being destroyed by the Nazis in the Second World War and has recently been remodelled. Soviet culture is a culture that preserves its history and values.
Everywhere we go, the securities eyes are looking around and they always try to keep us on the side-lines. We have developed very nice conversations so far and they tell us about the Soviets they learned from their grandfathers. They have passed on their longing for that time to their grandchildren and a youth who lives with the consciousness of this history.
While we were having a short resting tour in the centre of Berdiansk, we learned that the hotel we were staying in Melitopol was attacked. They make a new plan and take us to another hotel with tighter protection. We turned off all our devices. We quickly check into the hotel without registering and many of our friends go to rest. We stay to interview the head of the Lugansk People’s Republic Trade Union Union.
Compared to the places we have visited so far, we have witnessed more destruction today. We witnessed the restructuring and the effort to establish a life among the destroyed buildings. Some of us are witnessing the scars of war for the first time. We learn that there was an attack on Gorlovka, which we went to yesterday, and that there were deaths.