[Marxism] [SUSPICIOUS MESSAGE] How’s Life in the War Zone? Not Great

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun May 27 19:11:01 MDT 2018

NY Times Op-Ed, May 27, 2018
How’s Life in the War Zone? Not Great
By Alisa Sopova

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — I have a strong accent. When I say hello, people ask 
where I’m from. Ukraine, I answer. The eastern part not controlled by 
the government. The so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, from which I 
recently returned after a three-month visit.

Invariably, the next questions are: “Oh, what’s happening there? Is 
there a war still going on?” This indicates a failure of media coverage. 
We write about things extensively while they are new and exciting — and 
drop them as soon as they get boring.

The war in Ukraine has become boring. So I answer:

Well, it’s still taking lives at an average of one to two people every 
day. However, it has become so static that it’s sort of weird. Two 
armies sit before each other, sometimes just 100 feet apart. Bound by 
the Minsk truce agreements of 2014 and 2015, they cannot really fight 
each other. But without a political solution, they cannot leave. 
Sometimes they exchange fire, mostly at night while international 
monitors sleep. Mostly it’s just to let off steam.

Recently, violence has escalated, but the world has hardly noticed. This 
happens from time to time, without bringing any change. Then comes a new 
period of simmering.

Because the fighting is so ritualized, predictable and low-profile, 
civilian life is returning near the front lines, where war and peace 
coexist bizarrely and uneasily. I’ve seen a school that operates 500 
feet from the front. Children are bused there along a narrow road 
through minefields. I’ve heard that another school was shelled earlier 
this month. The windows were blown out while 370 children were inside. 
Four days later, the glass was fixed and the classes resumed. War is 
war, but you’ve got to go to school.

I’ve seen people fishing and picnicking close to the front line, taking 
short breaks if shelling starts — if it “becomes loud,” as they say.

One man I met lives in his bathroom because it’s the only part of his 
house that has survived the shelling, which was most intense early in 
the war, in 2014 and 2015. Another man is rebuilding his house a mile 
from the Donetsk airport, where fighting reignites now and then. His 
house has taken five hits, but the foundation is O.K. and the owner is 
optimistic. “Why are you doing it?” I asked. “Well,” he said, “I am an 
old man, and I have two daughters. I want to leave the house for them in 
good condition, but if I wait for the war to end I might not live that 

When I tell these stories, people ask if I still have family there. Yes, 
my family remains in Donetsk. What’s life like? It’s hard to explain. 
But I try:

When you think of war, you imagine terror, action and panicked people 
enduring bombings and shootings. There, it’s different. In downtown 
Donetsk, life looks pretty normal: hipster coffee shops, mothers pushing 
strollers, and in spring blossoming lilacs and roses.

But life is hard for other reasons.

Ukraine’s breakaway territory is the size of New York State, with about 
four million inhabitants facing impossible choices. Held hostage by 
opportunistic separatist authorities, they are simultaneously cast as 
outlaws by the Ukrainian government — as separatist sympathizers and 
disloyal citizens, whose sin was having been taken hostage. Even when 
they leave, as I did, accusations of treason and collaboration follow them.

As a result, these people have trouble receiving pensions, traveling to 
“mainland” Ukraine and back, obtaining passports, working or voting. 
Locked in a ghettoized quasi-state, they are torn between both sides’ 
unclear and repressive rules.

One of my relatives runs a small business in Donetsk but finds it 
difficult. Ukraine’s government has imposed an economic blockade on 
local businesses that are accountable only to the Ministry of Finance of 
the breakaway republic. The chairman of this ministry is known not by 
his given name, but by a nom de guerre — Tashkent.

Every two months, my grandmother must travel to government-controlled 
territory to claim her pension. The trip is not fun: You spend a whole 
day waiting in maddeningly slow lines at multiple checkpoints. People 
swarm on a narrow road that bisects a minefield. Because of the lack of 
facilities, they use roadside bushes as lavatories and occasionally 
become land-mine casualties. You can avoid this by traveling with a 
smuggler, who bribes the checkpoint bureaucrats to skip the lines. But 
that costs a whole month’s pension. You get to choose.

A friend of mine had a grandmother who wasn’t receiving her pension 
because she was too old for the grueling trip. She died recently. The 
death certificate issued by separatist authorities has no legal force, 
and there is no mechanism to issue a Ukrainian one for people who lived 
in uncontrolled territory. When my friend sought help in court, the 
judge demanded evidence — three witnesses to grandma’s death, or a video 
of the funeral. So goes the surrealism of life in this war.

Soon enough, the final question comes: So, whom do local people support 
— the separatists or the government? My answer disappoints everyone: 
Most support neither. It’s tempting to root for good guys against bad 
guys in a conflict on TV, especially if Russia is involved. But when you 
find soldiers digging trenches in your backyard, you suddenly don’t care 
if they are good or bad soldiers. You just want them out.

Our real-life choices are seldom political. People choose to stay in the 
war zone for many reasons — work, property, old age, disability, 
sentimental attachment to home. The lack of support from the state and 
the stigma attached elsewhere to being a displaced person also make it 
sensible to stay put.

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