No end to war for the people in eastern Ukraine

"Where the bomb hit? I can show you on my mobile," says Alexei, a construction engineer in the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, as he swipes through until he arrives at a photograph of his wrecked home.

There is a hole measuring a metre and a half in the roof, and his desk and computer is buried under rubble.

"The soldiers said it was a shell of at least 120 millimetres in diameter," says the 48-year-old engineer, who declines to provide his name.

He and his family escaped injury - they had fled the fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists to stay with his parents a year ago.

On the front line of the conflict, the town of Avdiivka is under the control of the Ukrainian army, who hold an advance position at the village of Opytne just 4 kilometres away.

The completely destroyed airport of Donetsk, held by the separatists, is 6 kilometres down the road.

A ceasefire has been agreed - officially - but every night Avdiivka residents can hear the shooting on both sides.

Their days are marked by worries and restrictions. "Wages are the same as before the war, but prices have risen," Alexei says, now unemployed.

The company he used to work for in Donetsk, just 20 minutes away by bus, might as well be on another planet as it is now under the rule of the unrecognized "Donetsk People's Republic."

Irina, a 46-year-old housewife, has managed to secure porridge, cooking oil and condensed milk for her five children from a food distribution centre.

She takes great care when the two youngest play in the snow. "I don't let them go anywhere on their own," she says. Parents are relieved that the internet is still working in Avdiivka, which at least offers their children some entertainment in the safety of their homes.

The destruction left by the shelling can be seen all over. Entire residential blocks stand empty on the outskirts of the town, which was home to 35,000 people before the conflict. Almost every home has been hit.

Those houses that are still inhabited have their windows boarded up or hastily repaired with new glass.

"I remember it exactly, the day that my house was destroyed," says a taxi driver taking a smoke break. "It was February 13, 2015." The day before, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with the presidents of France, Russia and Ukraine had agreed in Minsk that the fighting would end.

Artyom Sabadash, secretary at the municipal authority, says that up to 7,000 homes in Avdiivka have been damaged. "In addition 600 houses have received a direct hit," he says. Reconstruction of the town has been slow.

Avdiivka's largest factory belongs to the oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, whose vast holdings are on both sides of the front line. His factories have continued to operate throughout the conflict.

Alexei is unable to move back into his home, even though builders employed by the local plant have repaired the worst damage to the roof and structural walls. There is no one to pay for the internal repairs, and Alexei has no money of his own.

Sabadash confirms that Akhmetov is paying for the reconstruction work. The Red Cross and other aid organizations have donated windows, construction materials, food and medicines to Avdiivka.

But he does not include the Ukrainian government on his list. "Last November we were supposed to have received 7 million hryvnia [280,000 dollars] - too little, too late," he says. The state funding lapsed, as the town was unable to spend it in time.

"Avdiivka belongs to Ukraine," is painted on one wall, but the state is doing little to capitalize on this kind of patriotic sentiment among its eastern population.

Relations with the Ukrainian army are tense. They are not seen as an occupying force, but also scarcely as protectors. "There are just too many people going around with weapons," Alexei says.

No one in the town has any idea how the conflict will be resolved. Moscow and Kiev, where the big decisions are made, are far away.

"If only it would end soon," says Alexei. "Hopefully it will all pass like a bad dream," says Sabadash.

Last update: Mon, 01/02/2016 - 16:54

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