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.
Like in much of the rest of Donbass, people were poor but content. The average wage was $200 a month, just enough to keep a roof over your head and purchase food to feed your family. People saved so they could splurge on birthdays, New Year and Orthodox Easter, but there was little left over for any extravagances.
Ukrainian government soldiers sit on an armored vehicle as they take up a position in a sunflower field south of Donetsk on July 10, 2014.
Before being caught up in the proxy war between Moscow and Kiev, Artemivsk was renowned for its salt mines and sparkling wine.
A charming, archetypically Soviet-style bedroom community where towering monuments to Lenin were still visible, it was home to some 70,000 people — many of them miners and factory workers.
Horses drink from the Sever-Donets River in Sviatohirsk, a resort town with a hillside monastery in northern Donetsk region in summer 2011. Three years later, the monastery and town would become home to more than 20,000 internally displaced persons fleeing from the conflict-torn towns of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Read more…