By Vlad Demchenko, photojournalist, project author at Docutoloka
Translated by Voices of Ukraine’s Maria Stanislav and edited by Voices of Ukraine
Pisky is being stormed, the airport has been surrendered, everyone is dead, and all is lost… Sometimes, when you sit in Pisky or even on the DUC (Ukrainian Volunteer Corps) base, you can laugh yourself into a hernia by reading news and Facebook comments. Even after a year, most of our citizens have yet to develop an immunity against panic attacks.
But when Combat [“commander of battalion”] Chornyi [“Black”] says that there’s “some hardcore sh*t in Pisky” – that means things really ARE hardcore. And, if friend Bars [“Panther”] then starts emptying all of his grenade stashes, even the deepest ones – that means that “hardcore sh*t” is probably an understatement.
Moskal [Russian] artillery has been pounding Pisky and the [Donetsk] airport into the ground for two days now. Knowing that Combat will be heading to the front, I nag at him to bring me along. At first, as befits a true chieftain, he refuses, twice (or rather, pretends to ignore me), and then asks, “What are you going to do there?”
…Looks like Chornyi finds my answer to his liking, because he gives the order to pack.
I pack my equipment on the quiet, because there are two more photographers at the base – Tom and Loui – who will kill me if they find out I went without them. They are tough and brave guys but, considering the situation, two foreigners who don’t understand anything or anyone around them are a real burden. Fortunately, they are distracted by the celebration of friend Smereka’s [“Fir’s”] name-day, and while they are munching on holiday treats, I sneak into the car.
“You really think you can take up all this space?” Friend Hatylo [“Attila”] has a formidable argument, namely, an RPK [Kalashnikov’s light machine gun]. Obediently, I shuffle further in.
The trunk is stuffed full of deadly ammunition, there’s a bag full of loaded magazines in my lap. To my left – a pile of weapons almost reaching the car roof, to my right, friend Hatylo with a handheld machine gun. Bars is driving, and Chornyi is the navigator. This is a team to remember, and I can’t shake the feeling that one day, my grandchildren will get bored of my tales about legendary commanders I was lucky to cross paths with. Things get even more dramatic with discussions of possible options for retreating from Pisky – the situation can turn any way, after all. But, as is always the case at the front, most of the way is spent telling stories, cracking jokes, and sharing plans for the peaceful future. Plus, as per tradition, a latté and a hot-dog at the last gas station before the front line.
The atmosphere at checkpoints is tense. The day’s password is “hummingbird,” countersign “parrot.”
Past Karlivka, the motorway is glum and dangerous, and all villages along it are completely dark – something must have hit the power substation. A busted Ukrainian tank looms out of the darkness, memorial and milestone at once. We have arrived.
Outside, it’s pitch black, but felled trees, lying at every turn, testify to the scale of shelling. We are lucky to be here during a quiet time.
The first thing I see as I step out of the car is a huge black crater in the white snow. The club building, which only had one hole the last time I saw it, stands lopsided, showing signs of several direct hits. Craters are scattered at 20-30 meter intervals, deep and black against the white snow. I get a surprise when I want to go use the bathroom – turns out there isn’t one anymore. Where the outhouse used to be, is a crater filled with debris.
“Look on the bright side – no more cleaning!” Chornyi jokes.
The next day, as I wander through Pisky, I hear everyone’s story of how katsap [Russian] shelling helped them out. One hit shook up a pile of frozen coal; another, made a crater perfect for burning trash in. Some are talking about planting trees in the craters, and others say that next summer, the mortars will be great for harvesting potatoes. There are no wounded or dead. Thank God!During the day, you can really see the scale of what happened here. When I first came to Pisky, there were still some buildings with windows intact – now, there isn’t a single building left standing! It’s also obvious that professionals were at work here this time, working without giving out coordinates on air, and delivering very precise strikes – several direct hits on each position. It used to be that every direct hit was a special occasion, one that warriors told and retold each other in tales heavily punctuated by choice swearwords. Now, there aren’t many words left… But everyone’s alive! That’s what matters.
“I can imagine how bummed they’ll be when they get hospital updates [and see that no one got hurt]. I know they’re keeping tabs!” Chornyi is pepped, being obviously in his element here. He visits all positions, finds three cars’ worth of mortar ammo for artillery men, hunts an enemy tank (which WILL get blown up by the end of the day!) and keeps repeating,
“I DON’T BELIEVE THEY’VE GOT ENOUGH ARTILLERY TO BEAT US! Grads are too expensive, Russia isn’t going to keep supplying them. This whole three-ring-circus, along with the lies about the airport, and the ultimatums, that’s just to demoralize us… Well, the hell they will! Let them waste their ammo – all the better!”
He says the same on air, for separs [separatists] to hear. Chornyi is an unparalleled master of separ trolling. Compared to him, snotty katsap warriors are like kids who make prank calls to shout ‘you suck!’ and hang up. [Their air time is all] dumb swears and curses, ‘fascists’ and ‘motherf*ckers,’ and empty threats. I was ‘lucky’ to hear the ‘dynamic duo’ of Givi and Motorola [separatist battalion commanders] on air once. The first one is definitely off his head – like I wrote before, he even talks to his own men like they were swine.
Motorola, now, is just full of sh*t! To use their own terms, ‘kid done f*cked up’ – if you believe him, he’s been taking the airport for half a year now, and has killed everyone in Pisky at least three times, blah, blah, blah… I should note, though, that all our commanders say, “We respect him as a fighter – he’s a tough guy; too bad he’s dumb.”
An interesting dialogue happened between Chornyi and one of the separ commanders, a fellow named Fiksa.
Chornyi: Fiksa, don’t be dumb! Find a white t-shirt, hang it on a stick, come over here, and we’ll solve all our problems. It’s our home, so let’s kick the katsaps out and sort out, on our own, who gets to run Donbas.
Fiksa: Yeah, so there’d be parades in leather underpants here, too…
There you go… The ‘Gayrope’ myth [Gay Europe, popular homophobic slur in Russia], the crucified babies stories – they’re actually working. People are fighting, stuck in the dumbest Matrix ever, and will keep fighting until they get put to rest with a 7.62 caliber shot.
Then, shelling starts again. Grads, mortars, tanks, SP guns…
After the shelling, Tom and Loui arrive from the base. In the same car as them are two colonels from the artillery school in Sumy. They came here to teach the Right Sector’s warriors to guide artillery. You should’ve seen the gleam in those men’s eyes! That was the real thing! I finally saw how Ukrainian warriors unite into an Army! Soon, Ms Alla Megel will bring you an interview with these colonels – it is not to be missed.
As for me, I’m leaving Pisky for a while. I must write the report for you, process a pile of photographs, and edit new films. One of them, Christmas of a Nation, is already done and will be live online on January 19. I’ll include its trailer at the end of this post, and I strongly recommend it. It is so far my favorite film made by Docutoloka authors!
I don’t know what else to write. This post was shot on the go, processed on the go, and written up on a bus bound for Dnipropetrovsk. I hope you found it interesting.
And, naturally, I want to thank the people who chipped in and put UAH 1,000 [c. USD 60] on my bank card. Going in, I didn’t know whether I’d have money even to get back to Dnipr [Dnipropetrovsk] – and now, thanks to you, I have a berth on the train that will take me all the way to Kyiv, and even a mug of beer to toast the men who are pummeling the damn katsaps right now.
I’m going home! Stay tuned!
Christmas of a Nation (a Docutoloka) documentary – Trailer:
VoU note: the full film is now available to watch on YouTube.
And now, a moment for self-promotion:
You too can help the independent documentary project DOCUTOLOKA!
– visit our Facebook page, like it, and invite your friends to;
– subscribe to our YouTube channel (thanks to you, we already earned USD 4.5 through YouTube. 🙂 );
– if you can afford to, help us financially. The names of all sponsors will be included in the credits of the new Rokada series!
– Privat Bank card N 5168 7553 6963 8966 – Demchenko Volodymys Stepanovych.
– Docutoloka community association. State registration code 39291743, current account 26003453674 in Raiffeisen Bank Aval, MFO 380805.
Also, if anyone has optics for a Canon 60D camera, that would be awesome. ‘Cause we’re still, as the saying goes, ‘naked and barefoot, in a flower crown.’ ))
Glory to Ukraine!
Source: Vlad Demchenko FB