Some people simply seemed to change personality as if shedding old skin. A local teacher who used to tutor me in Russian and excitedly ask about life in the U.S. had become a vocal separatist. She proselytized the separatists’ cause in her classes, one student told me over coffee recently. To her, everyone in Kiev was a Nazi, the student said.
Fast forward to the present moment and the names of these cities, towns and tiny villages have become well-known datelines — the front lines of a conflict that has killed more than 4,300 people. More than a million others have fled or been displaced.
Rescue workers tag and bag the bodies of passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 19, two days after it was downed over the war zone in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region. All 298 people on board the aircraft died.
Before the war, people in the Donbass lived in a vacuum. Television offered news from Kiev and Moscow, but those places felt like a world away. When I first arrived there was just one café that had an Internet connection. Not even the city library had access to the web.
On Nov. 21, 2013, a few hundred activists gathered in Independence Square — more commonly known as Maidan — to protest the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to spurn a deal with the European Union and instead turn toward Moscow.
Today, after months under separatist rule, Artemivsk is once more controlled by the government forces of Ukraine. The tricolor flags of the Donetsk People’s Republic have been ripped down and burned.
Other cities in eastern Ukraine including Sloviansk and Horlivka, where I also occasionally taught English, have also been transformed by war. Rocket fire has razed entire city blocks to the ground.
The City of a Million Roses, as it was once known, has been transformed into a city of a thousand armored vehicles. There are no traffic jams. Instead, streets are dominated by convoys of tanks and Russian aid trucks. Read more…