"We had to prove that we were not guilty"
Read part 1
This story is typical for many of Donetsk residents. Returnees say that the thing that made them return was not even the way people in other regions treated them, but the way they were treated by the state. Alyona and Oleksiy who have returned to Donetsk tell about their story:
“We left Donetsk last year when our younger twenty-year-old son got a draft notice form “DPR military enlistment office.” We did not think much, just threw some clothes into a suitcase and left. We gave practically all our savings for tickets to Kyiv”, says Oleksiy. “We found a house on Kyiv outskirts, jobs and schools. And then it started...”
To register as IDPs (to get welfare allowance which is about 15 dollars a month for a working person and about 35 dollars a month for a retiree or a child) they went through hell. There were too many IDPs in their area and the procedure took several days."
“Then there were problems when authorities started checking if we really lived there. People who were checking us came on exactly the same day when we went to visit our friends in Kyiv. Our neighbour who seemed a wonderful person was asked if we lived according to the address stated in the documents and he said: “I’m not sure”, though he knew us really well. It took us several days to prove that we really lived there”, says Olena.
When the family decided to go to Donetsk for some time, “to breathe the air of their native city”, deep in their souls Olena and Oleksiy already knew that they would not come back to Kyiv. Border guards at the checkpoints were the last straw. They literally interrogated the family about the purpose of their visit to Donetsk. “We knew that at “DPR” checkpoints they sometimes asked stupid questions, but our border guards looked at us as if we were traitors. We had not expected that. Maybe, they do not treat all people like that but this does not make any difference. Donetsk, our killed, shelled city, added more gloom to our impressions. It took us three days to overcome everything that had happened, them we sat down, thought a bit, counted expenses and decided to stay. Our sons decided to live in Kyiv, they work and rent flats. We are in Donetsk and we do not owe anything to anyone.”
Oleksiy and Olena refused from welfare allowance for IDPs. Oleksiy works as a taxi driver, Olena looks after their vegetable patch. “It is hell, of course, but at least we are at home”, says the family.
"My boss reminded me that I was an IDP and had to work practically for free"
“We are not IDPs, we are not refugees, we think that we went away on holiday. Yes, we went to Russia as our relatives live there, but we lived near Donetsk Airport. Can you imagine how many shells hit our house? More than ten. Of course, we went to people who invited us!”
Oleh, 28-year-old Donetsk resident says that he went to Rostov-on-Don with his wife and newly-born daughter. His aunt and uncle let the family stay with them.
“Of course our relatives love us and care about us. They have no TV at home this is why their minds are more or less clear. However, when we went to register as refugees, it was a real marathon. We were going in endless circles around different institutions with our six-weeks-old daughter, took one paper after another, exchanged them for new ones, even showed that we really had a baby... When it was time to vaccinate her, we had to pay! It had always been free in Donetsk and even in Russia refugees are vaccinated for free, but we had to pay for that. Then, we were offered to go to Baikal area as, as they told us, there were jobs and accommodation for refugees. We refused and then they excluded us from the programme of state aid for refugees and it is good that at least they did not ask us to return the money they had spent on us”, says Oleh.
Employment was the last straw. His relatives’ friends helped Oleh to find a job as a shop assistant. It turned out then that his salary was three times lower than the salary of his colleagues.
“I got ten thousand rubles and the sum surprised me, as we had agreed about thirty thousand plus bonuses. The director told me that I had to be happy with what I got and maybe later he would raise my salary. He then reminded me that I was a refugee and I had to be happy to work even for little money. It was all said in a very humiliating manner. Next day I quit. I failed to find job in Rostov-on-Don, I was either offered to work for practically no money or to work unofficially. My wife and I decided that I could work for the same money in Donetsk, thanked our family and went back. It is a myth that Russia loves people from the Donbas and is happy to see them. Some people do not believe me when I tell them this story, so I suggest that hey should go and check if it is true themselves. No one has done it so far, though”, says Oleh.
There are hundreds of such stories. Donetsk residents come back to their occupied city due to the same reason: they have failed to find a new place in life and they are tired of being stigmatized. “We were appointed guilty for all Ukrainian troubles. However, our example shows that Ukraine has a long way to go before we learn to live with each other”, says Serhiy, a university teacher who has recently returned to Donetsk.
Serhiy Kurhanov, Apostrophe
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