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Debaltseve: hunger and hopelessness

Debaltseve: hunger and hopelessness

This is a recent account by an acquaintance who has miraculously succeeded in leaving the city and reaching territory under Ukrainian control.

I remained in Debaltseve until the end, even during the evacuation. It was frightening to leave. The horror came later, when the flags were changed at the city council. The city has died. It has been completely destroyed, but it is still trying to survive under conditions that are unfit for life. My countrymen are trying to repair their homes after the shelling or to salvage the property that still remains in the buildings. But this is impossible! Everything has been looted and destroyed.

People are standing in huge lines for humanitarian aid and are preparing food outdoors. Almost all the buildings in the center of Debaltseve captured by the militants have been destroyed or damaged. To assess the humanitarian situation in the city it is enough to look at the faces of its residents, turned grey from hunger. In addition, there is no place to live. People are living in basements,  and they are getting sick and dying.

There is no medicine. By my count, more than 80% of the buildings in Debaltseve have been destroyed during the war. Kindergartens, schools and other institutions are closed. They promised to reopen the central city hospital starting February 25. Another hospital located near the train station has been completely destroyed.

The city has been mined, so walking is dangerous. There is no power. Every day they bring and distribute free bread and hot tea in the city. When it was under Ukrainian control, there was canned food, cereals and potatoes. Now there is only bread and tea. It’s true they said the International Red Cross has delivered something.

My countrymen are living in unsanitary conditions. They are hungry and cold. In Debaltseve, the power supply is not the only problem. There is no gas or water. There are not many people left. Usually no more than 200 city residents stand in line for humanitarian assistance. And these are all elderly people.

During the final weeks before Ukrainian troops left the city the shelling never stopped. Every day dozens of buildings came under Grad rocket fire. Since late January, Debaltseve has been without electricity or water. Some 6,000 to 9,000 people have remained in the city. This is about 30% of the residents. They mostly stay in basements, and it is cold in their apartments. They prepare food over open fire in the street near their entrances. Moreover, most of them have no money at all, so they cannot leave the city.

I’ll tell you about the basements where we had to live. Inside it is dark, damp. There is a table in the middle, with a candle. Women sit around it feeding children.

Before the departure of the Ukrainian army, the residents of Debaltseve were leaving the city in great numbers. In particular, they fled to Kharkiv. Basically women with children and the elderly went there, but also entire families with men.

The DNR authorities are in no hurry to deliver food to the territories they have seized. In other cities and villages there are collections of food for Debaltseve. In addition to food, people also need essential medicines. Right now people who did not or could not leave are standing in long lines, even for water. Often they collect water directly from the puddles in the streets. Fortunately, the snow has melted. There is danger of intestinal infections.

Perhaps, like us, whoever can leave the city will try to do so at the first opportunity.

Nadiya Nadiezhdina, sociologist, Horlivka, March 2, 2015

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