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19 June 2022, 16:21

Special Report: Donetsk. Evening walk under fire and two seconds to make a decision

The shelling of Donetsk by the Armed Forces of Ukraine has become much more intense recently. The city is shelled a hundred times a day. They are hitting the center and residential areas, markets and shops, schools and maternity hospitals. A BelTA correspondent took a walk around Donetsk in the evening and learned how the city, which has been under shelling for the past eight years, lives.

On the way from the hotel I note: most shops in Donetsk close at 5.00 in the evening. Some work till 6.00. Very few stay open till 9.00. A curfew has been declared in the city, so there is no need for shops at night here. Surprisingly, flower shops close later than groceries. At the entrance to flower stalls, women stand looking bored. I would like to think that more often people buy flowers for festive occasions rather than for funerals. I try not to think about it.

I walk past a store that has been recently hit by a shell. The sign has fallen off, there is a gaping hole in the window showcase, and the walls are damaged. They say Ukraine uses cluster bombs. They are a terrible thing: a large shell scatters smaller shells. Sometimes they do not explode and turn into anti-personnel mines. This is the city downtown. There are no military facilities here, the infrastructure is strictly civilian. They shell the places where peaceful people live.

Above the road there is a poster that says that Russia is here forever. Even the walls speak about the attitude of locals to the special military operation. They have Russian flags, words of greeting and support to the Russian army. Every now and then I come across two famous letters of the Latin alphabet, which in some countries, west of Belarus, have been banned altogether. Here they are all over the place.

There is such a place in Donetsk, the Park of Metal Forged Sculptures. It was opened about twenty years ago. During this time, more than two hundred metal sculptures have been installed in the park. An unusual place, indeed. It has all kinds of sculptures: from fairy-tale characters familiar from childhood, symbols of zodiac signs, to the Cup of the Europa League. Once FC Shakhter Donetsk won it. Then the club relocated from Donetsk. In the park, the number of people of all ages is surprising. Parents spend time with children on the playground, young people walk along the alleys, pensioners slowly go about their business. The city lives its own life.

I listen. Vague rumblings in the distance. It's like a thunder, though weather forecast promised clear skies in Donetsk. Then you see that people begin to rush. Pensioners accelerate their step, young people almost switch to running. Cars rush along Universitetskaya Street. When you read the news about the shelling of Donetsk in the news feed or watch stories on TV, everything seems somehow distant, almost unreal. Yesterday the city was shelled fifty times. There were wounded and dead. You read this, shake your head sadly and scroll through the news feed further. It all happens somewhere out there, very far and away. The news about the shelling is followed by rumors, gossip, celebrities. You, in your comfort zone, do not even think about the fact that every shot from Grad, Uragan or Tochka U means a crippled life, a sleepless night, and tears.

Here you perceive everything differently. You realize that all this is not somewhere far away, somewhere in another life. It is all here. It is real and it is scary. A woman shielding her child, covering his eyes and ears asks is tears where she can take shelter. I feel stumped. I want to help her, to take her to a safe place, to calm her down. But I do not know myself where to hide, where to go. The shelling is far away, but any of them can fall right in front of you, tear you apart, maim you, kill you. The military instructed us: if you see a shell, you have no more than two seconds to make a decision. If you hear a whistle, the shell has passed you by. I wonder if I can make the right decision in two seconds. I would not want to check this out.

The most important thing is to have stability and no war. Such toxic comments about the Belarusians are made rather often. Yes, that is really the most important thing: to live without knowing what war is. Not to be afraid of letting your loved one go to the store or to the market, because he or she might not come home. Not to shudder at night at an explosion a few hundred meters from home. Not to learn to hide from shells. Not to take your children to school from basements. The resilient, courageous, and unbroken residents of the Donetsk People's Republic know this better than anyone else.

We are meeting a woman. She is hurrying home from work. She says there has not been such heavy shelling in Donetsk for a long time. Before, they shelled the outskirts, but now shells have been hitting the center of the city more often. She says everyone is very tired, afraid to leave houses. Everyone here supports Russia, she adds. She expresses the hope that it will soon be over.

I am returning to the hotel. I am sure it is a walk I will never forget.

By BelTA's Andrei Voropai

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