Article by: Jolika Malchevska
She sings lullabies to her teddy bears and still cannot believe that there is tea at home. This is Tanya, she is three years old. She is used to living in war. Several months ago the girl lived with the soldiers in Shakhtarsk battalion. Her father and her mother (as a field cook) fought there. Now the battalion was disbanded and Tanya has nowhere to go. Her home was in Donetsk. The three-year-old girl cannot pronounce all the sounds but knows very well already how to behave during an artillery attack. She teaches her teddy bears and the Radio Liberty camera crew.
“Donetsk is when you go there, it is there…”
“Is it scary, when they shoot?”
“It’s scary. When you have to hide in a hole. When they shoot, you have to run.”
“Did you hide in a hole?”
“We were near Volnovakha. With the child, yes…” Adds Tanya’s mother, Iryna. And she quickly wipes her tears – she did not expect her daughter to describe war so well. She is pretty, with long hair. So skinny that she looks like a teenager. All in black, with a large ascetic cross on a string. Pale, like her skin. Her long thin fingers bear leftovers of a nice manicure. Her tired face has only small sparks of her eyes. She brought tea. As if to prove to her daughter that it did not disappear. So, they are safe.
“When we just came here, she was constantly running around and shouting: ‘Mom, look, there’s tea here!’ I still cannot believe everything is well,” Iryna notes.
5 thousand per head. Even her own mother is on the other side of the barricade
Iryna asks us not to record her face, and that of her daughter, so that their family and neighbors don’t recognize them. All of them are on the other side of the barricade, she admits. They are mercenaries of the so-called ‘DNR,’ which Ukraine officially considers to be a terrorist group. According to Iryna, even her own mother doesn’t know whose side her son, her daughter-in-law and even her little granddaughter are fighting on. However, the Donetsk citizens assures: her husband and her went to defend Ukraine with no hesitation. Alone against everyone else. The woman emotionally explains that she thinks it is important to raise our own country, and not flee to another one. She explains it in Russian. And emphasizes that she was born in independent Ukraine.
“I was born in ’91. I don’t know what the USSR was like. Our parents, mine and his mother, all of them are for the ‘DNR.’ My husband even asked his mother once: ‘Mom, what is I bring a Ukrainian flag back home, will you hand me over to the ‘DNR’? After this, they haven’t spoken to each other. Nobody knows where we are. It is really frightening to return! The guys from Torez said they are offering five thousand for each other their heads… If we return, it is quite possible that we will be killed and they will get money for it!” Says Iryna.
As such, Iryna and her child, as well as her husband, ended up with no roof over their heads, no jobs, not a penny and, practically, with no rights. The woman sighs: to be able to survive, her husband went to work at construction. Temporarily: because he is also trying to join another Ukrainian battalion, in order to fight for Ukraine again, she says. Iryna also wants to find a job. And a kindergarten for her daughter. But to no avail, so far. Because neither of them has an official document about the fact that they participated in combat, the family has not been given ATO participant status. Because they went as volunteers. And no social support, of course.
Bring a certificate that you’re a hero
All the most ardent defenders of Ukraine ended up suspended in mid-air, says head of the ATO veteran union Kyrylo Serheyev. Everyone who bet on their lives, not by summons, but by the call of their hears.
“There are many such people. First and foremost, the biggest problem is that our country said A and did not follow with B. On the one hand, they allowed the emergence of volunteer battalions, on the other hand, they did not finalize this occurrence. The definition of volunteer and volunteer battalion has to be regulated by law,” Serheyev notes.
According to the veteran, nobody knows the exact number of volunteers at this point. There is no official list. At the same time, without ATO participant status these fighter de facto have no rights to surgery or prosthetics paid by the state, or pensions, social support – for their families and themselves.
Back to life
However, the lack of clarity in volunteer status is not the only legislative hole, Serheyev claims. He adds that he followed his heart when he fought in Aydar battalion and he is certain that the state doesn’t know what to do with the former fighters. How to bring back the people who learned how to kill professionally. Back to peaceful society. He says that he has gone to many government offices with the only petition: at least give them a residence. So that they can set it up themselves as shelter for the fighters who have nowhere to go.
However, help did not come from the state but from social networks. The head of one of the factories volunteered to give a few rooms inside the factory itself. Now they are setting up a fighter rehabilitation center here – also with the help of volunteers and the ATO veteran union. They brought beds and one rehab machine for the disabled. There is a shower, a laundry machine, a stove and a refrigerator, three livable rooms. This is where Iryna and little Tanya were given shelter. Starting November 14 the center was officially opened for all ATO participants. The only bad thing is that there are only 12 beds. The state has not started working on the issue of homelessness, rightless heroes and their families, according to the veteran.