- BBC News World
Little is known about the two rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine being at the center of Russia’s military confrontation with Western powers.
That is why in this note we tell the story of a resident who was forced to leave the city of Donetsk when it was besieged in 2014.
He recently came to visit. This is his first person account.
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There was a convenient sleeper train between Kiev and the Donetsk Central Station in the Ukrainian capital, but now you have to travel by unmarked minibus.
Travel from Europe to New Zealand can take up to 27 hours. But it was a much less comfortable experience.
I was not allowed to enter Russian-backed rebel-held territory, so I had to go a long way: through Russia and not from Ukrainian territory.
It is technically illegal for Ukrainian citizens to go this way, so when our minibus reaches the Russian border, the driver asks if we are going to a wedding in a nearby town.
To get into the rebel-held area, we changed into another vehicle.
Their license plates are issued by what is known as the Donetsk People’s Republic or DNR, which is not recognized in the outside world. The driver says he was behind the wheel for 24 hours.
When we get to the border, I can pass my “internal” Ukrainian passport, because I still have an address registered in Donetsk.
They take away all of our passports; They give back to everyone except me.
They ask me to get out of the truck to answer some questions. They take me to a room with a desk and an old computer monitor, I try not to get nervous.
I am offered a seat when someone who speaks well in a leather jacket examines me closely. He asks what my age is, where I work, and how often I travel to DNR. But soon he allowed me to join the other passengers in the minibus.
We have crossed the border and now there is only 120 km left to reach my old city.
I’m almost at home, but Donetsk is not the house I recognize.
It was the main venue for the 2022 European Football Championships held in Ukraine and Poland 10 years ago.
In preparation for the match, Donetsk saw a major overhaul. A new airport was set up, roads were repaired, and gleaming hotels opened their doors.
During Euro 2012, the city was packed with English, French, Spanish and Portuguese fans. It was a lively European city.
Now, at the beginning of 2022, my city has changed Almost It is unrecognizable.
A large Stalinist building in the center of the city houses the rebellious Republican Ministry of Taxation. The building is in good condition and surrounded by elegant flower beds. But many nearby shops and cafes are closed and their windows are boarded up. The empty playground is littered with weeds.
There are signs of further deterioration at the outdoor tennis courts of a nearby sports center; The bushes there are as tall as me.
The large Cisne Blanco shopping mall was packed with shoppers. But now the ghost building is where all sorts of shops used to be, from shoe stores to jewelry stores.
It is wrong to say that the whole of Donetsk is lifeless. In another part of the city center, many restaurants and cafes are bustling with customers. I was told that local theaters show shows by visiting Russian companies, which are always packed.
But move from the center to the northeast: there are deserted apartments on the streets, some damaged by bombs and bullets.
The area was badly damaged during the war for the Donetsk airport in September 2014.
During the day, many Donetsk streets are as busy as they were before the war, but at night they are empty.
Everyone is eager to go home before the night curfew lasts from 11:00 pm to 5:00 am.
This is strictly adhered to, and I hear stories of people being detained at night for picking up trash.
A few kilometers from the center is the former Donetsk Center for Contemporary Art. Now the building is a bad prison.
International high street stores such as Benetton, Nike, Zara or Adidas that existed here before the war have disappeared.
To buy clothes, shoes or home appliances, many locals have to cross the border into Russia. Those who cannot travel will come to the market or small shops where the supply is low.
Liquor drinks and snacks are good on supermarket shelves, but the best quality ingredients are expensive. Next to the imported bottles of Tennessee whiskey is one named Red Daniels, which costs less than a tenth of the price.
One of my last nights before leaving Donetsk, I met a classmate and went to a hotel in Lenin Square.
After McDonald’s closed its stores in Donetsk in the spring of 2014, three of them reopened under the new name Danmake.
We ordered burgers, fries and coffee, and I can not point out that it tastes different than regular fast food.
“That’s the way it is in everything here,” my friend complains bitterly. “Everything we had was replaced by a lower quality knockoff version!”
“We live in a dystopia where people rarely survive, but the street slogans boast of a bright future.”
My friend points out that I wonder if the Donbass region will ever regain control of Ukraine, and that most locals now have Russian passports and that the new generation of children has been born since 2014.
“No one working in the government or civil service at DNR would want to go back to Ukraine. Every year, we think the return will decrease.”
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