Ukraine, two sides of the story of Horlivka. #500WED Challenge.

The geopolitical situation playing out in Ukraine, tragically affects the lives of people caught in the middle. According to news reports, as of September 2014, over one thousand people have been killed outside the direct military engagement. This post looks at two sides of the events in the small town of Horlivka, one as reported by the media and the other as a story of people on the ground. This story is based on true events and real people. The names have been changed and any resemblance to actual persons is purely coincidental.

Part One: The story in the headlines.

Map of Ukraine

In the spring of 2014, as fighting escalated between Ukrainian Military forces and unmarked troops, thousands of families fled the eastern regions of Ukraine nearing the Russian border. While Russian Foreign Minister assured the world that no Russian military is present in the region, the unmarked troops were widely believed to be Russian; for reasons of language, uniforms, gear, and identities of captured soldieries, who turned out to be the officers and soldiers of active Russian military forces. Events in these regions, were happening just as they did a month earlier in Crimean Peninsula, where a large number of forces displaying no insignia, swiftly  captured military bases, communication, infrastructure and government installations, including Crimea’s Supreme Council. The latter immediately appointed Aksyonov’s government, which within days passed a referendum declaring independence from Ukraine, establishment of Republic of Crimea, requesting and immediately being granted annexation and protection by Russia.

Now, after Crimea, the forces engaging the same strategy in eastern regions, such of just self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic, were fairing much worst. With Ukraine’s military engaged, the cities in the region, like the small town of Horlivka, near Donetsk, became hot zones of daily fire exchange in a battle for key infrastructure objects, between Ukraine’s military and Pro-Russian activist forces. The leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic bolstered of support and donations they are receiving from local residents, and frowned on the non-supporters who chose to escape. Thousands of people fled the region. Most moved to stay with friends or family in other parts of Ukraine or Europe. The EU countries governments called the events a human tragedy welcoming refugees to safety.

Part Two: The story behind the headlines.

Burning_apartment_building_in_Shahtersk,_August_3,_2014

It was the morning of the first day of school. Two girls in early teen years cheerfully ran out the door, excited to see friends they have not seen all summer. Waiving good bye to them, their mother Katya, locked the door and returned to the kitchen of their small Berlin apartment. She’s lived in Germany for 8 years since moving here from Ukraine, with her husband and their two daughters. She poured her self a cup of coffee and stood staring out of the window, starting to cry again. She’s been crying for days, her face, now swollen by endless tears looked like it aged by decades in weeks, and once blue beautiful eyes, were red and puffy.

Katya’s mother, Galina, a retired women in her mid sixties, who has been staying with Katya’s family in Germany all summer, set on the couch in the living room amongst the piles of clothing spread out in front her half, along with a half packed suitcase laying open on the floor. Galina’s three month German visa expired tomorrow, and all requests, appeals and hearings for extension of her stay where denied. She was to leave Germany, and it did not matter that her hometown of Horlivka was at the center of the active military engagement, and that Katya was the only family she had, or that as part of her stay, Katya guaranteed all care and financial responsibility for her mother while in Germany. Nothing seems to matter. According to authorities, there wasn’t a sufficient reason to grant extension of her visa.

Twelve hours earlier and few thousand miles away in Horlivka, Ukraine.

George and Maria, a retired couple, George in his seventies and Maria in her late sixties, set up for dinner in their apartment in Horlivka, Ukraine. You could hardly call the tea with bread a dinner, but that was all they scraped today. The city which been their home their whole life, was gridlocked by fighting, empty, unrecognizable. Most stores were closed. Buildings stood abandoned, shut down and burned. They had no children or siblings, and their closest friends fled town as the war erupted. George and Maria were the only residents left in their nine story apartment building. Other buildings around them faired not much better. Entire neighborhood seemed like a ghost town. It was dusk.

They heard some voices outside the door and then a knock, followed by announcement that representatives for Donetsk Republic forces were here to collect donations. Representatives or not, these thugs came at all hours, but mostly did not bother the residents. They collected their donations by breaking into abandoned apartments of people who fled, and gutted them out of everything, from valuables, TV’s, household items, clothing, art, furniture, all to be sold for pennies on the dollar to black market dealers coming across the border, and playing the role of the ATM machine, that spewed out cash in exchange for valuables.

“I don’t have anything to donate, Go Away!” yelled George. Few moments later, the door shook from what seems like a train running into it, and swung open ripping the locks and breaking wooden frame. George ran to hold the door, but was quickly overpowered. Four young men, aged 18 to 22 entered. They were wearing commando boots, pans and black jackets. One carried an AK-47 rifle, they smelled of alcohol. “Not a supporter?”, said one man, firmly planting the stock of his rifle in George’s chest and with the sound of cracked ribs, gasping for air, George stumbled backward and slid down the wall behind him. Maria rushed to grab him, when another men, kicked her, and losing her balance, she fell forward hitting her head hard against the floor. All went dark.

When she awoke, in pile of her blood from a busted forehead, the intruders were gone and their apartment has been tossed. Her husband of forty years, laid silent on the floor, not breathing. She tried to feel his pulse and found none. Maria stumbled to the phone to call for help, there was no answer. The emergency services were working sporadically. Maria dialed her oldest, friend and neighbor, who fled few month ago to stay with her daughter. -“Galina?” said Maria “Yes? Darling, how good you called, my visa extension has been denied, and I will be home in few days” she heard familiar Galina’s voice from the other side. – “Galina” Maria’s voice was trembling, her hands shaking and a the next words seems stuck in her throat. “George is dead … the world has gone mad… don’t come home!”

This post was written as part of the #500WED Writing Challenge.

Day 6 Writing prompt by Cecily Kellogg

This is a memoir style prompt: I want you to tell a “carefully edited truth.” Stories are full of facts, but not every fact tells the story you want to tell. I’d like you to try to tell a story both ways; first, as it actually happened – and then rewrite it to be more expressive, interesting, and entertaining by editing out the elements that don’t need to be there. Each part should be short; just do 250 words for both. Challenge yourself to pull out the details in the second version that really put a fascinating spin on the story.

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