Donetsk residents who fled the war return home because they were not accepted by those who live on peaceful territories.
They do not like being called returnees. They did not like being called internally displaced people either. They just tried to save their children and themselves from the war. Their stories are always sad: after wandering around the country they return to Donetsk which is occupied by militants. They do this not because home is best, but because they have no other place to go: neither Ukraine, no Russia waited for them or was happy to see them.
"We are not professional escapees"
In the summer of 2014, after another night which they had spent on the bathroom floor, blocking the door by a blanket barricade, they rushed to Donetsk railway station, which still worked at that time, and caught the first train which was leaving the city. The train brought them to the south of Ukraine, then they were taken around by dusty buses and ended up in Kyrovohrad vicinity. They stayed there for two years and now they are back in Donetsk again. For good.
“We came back because it turned out that we got from one hell into another one. Will it surprise you very much if i tell you that our state has not done anything for its citizens who fled the war two years ago?”, says Andriy from Donetsk.
“Of course, we understand that Ukraine had not had the war since its independence was declared and no one knew for sure what to do with IDPs. But, damn it, we are not professional escapees either!”, says Donetsk residents gesticulating emotionally. “We arrived in some town, got off at the railway station and we knew neither where to go nor what to do. Police and town hall staff were just shrugging their shoulders and saying: “We do not know either...”
The family managed to rent a tiny flat thanks to their savings. “This is where we faced another outraging thing. The landlady told us: “I will not let my flat to people from Donetsk!” Only the landlady of the fifth or sixth flat look at us sadly: “Oh, my... You are so exhausted!” We agreed with her about the price and paid for three months immediately. We had no idea that we would soon return home. We had only three suitcases of our belongings...”
The head of the family worked as a freelance computer programmer for some customers from Western Europe who increased his salary a bit when they learnt about the situation. Mariya, his wife, found a job as a manicurist at a beauty parlour, their son went to a local school. But their life in this town was not happy.
“We went through all the possible insults. Our son’s classmates called him a “separatist” and a “Russian”, though due to his age he did not care about politics. He speaks Ukrainian really well, in Donetsk he had taken parts in different school events devoted to national holidays, he had been wearing a vyshywanka and sharovary (traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt and Cossack trousers), they had sung folk songs and had even danced. And suddenly he was a “separatist” and a “Russian”. The principal of the school told us: “What do you want? Our children’s fathers fight in the Donbas!” We tried to explain her that that fact had nothing to do with our son, but no one cared”, sighs Andriy. “They one of my wife’s colleagues lost her husband in Pisky or in some other place and she told my wife so many offensive things: “You live without any problems here, and we get coffins from the East!” My wife had a nervous breakdown and told that lady: “Can you imagine how happy we are in strange houses, not knowing what has happened of our flat. Our relatives sleep in basements because the area they live in is shelled constantly, and you do not know if they are alive or not. We really have no problems, we are absolutely happy...”
There were too many moments of the kind and it turned out that it was impossible to live without paying attention to the commentaries behind your back. Gradually, the way people from the Donbas were treated deteriorated due to TV”, says Andriy.
“TV channels do not inform people about the events in the east of Ukraine, they just create stereotypes. We were accused of horrible things and when we asked why people had that opinion, they answered us: “I heard that on TV”, says Donetsk resident. “I watched some news programmes and I understood that was not news, it was propaganda in the worst sense of the word”.
Andriy and his family did not get any kind of welfare allowance. They were registered as IDPs but they refused from financial help as they were working and earning money. They say they do not owe anything to the state.
“We needed its help on the first day after our arrival on the peaceful territory: we wanted to be told where to go and how to live... We were struggling ourselves, however we failed to build a peaceful life. So, we decided to go back”, says Mariya.
They understand that this decision looks weird but they are determined to return home. Not everyone can stand two years of living in strange flats, without friends or relatives. They young family is just tired of listening to accusations of the things they gave not done.
“Sometimes we were accused of bringing the war to Ukraine, of supporting Putin, even of the fact that the crime rate in the town had increased due to IDPs. “Go to Russia”, they told us. We did not offend anyone, but we just cannot stand it any more and we are not going to prove these people anything”, say Andriy and Mariya.
Their flat is in a quiet district of Donetsk which has not been shelled. Militants shell Avdiivka, Pisky and Opytne from that area... This is why the district is considered to be safe. Andriy still works as a freelancer, Mariya returned to her work in a beauty parlour, their son went to a school near their home.
“They kept asking us: “Why did you come back? Is everything so bad in Ukraine?” We answer: “It depends, just as it does here.” People do not ask a lot of questions and this is good”, says Andriy. “I cannot say that we are offended with Ukraine or we hate someone. It is just the fact that everything is done in a wrong way for IDPs. This is why people keep returning to Donetsk.”
New service "Explain Ukraine". This is a daily mailout of two articles which were written about the situation in the Donbas by Donbas journalists and translated into English. Honest vision of people who work in the field is unbiased and fresh which is crucial in the world which is full of desinformation and propaganda. We try to share this vision in out daily mailout. You can subscribe here.