Explosions, shattered nerves mark Ukraine truce

Sleeping in cellars, listening nervously for the next artillery attack, and too poor even to flee: welcome to the reality of Ukraine`s ceasefire for residents of rebel-held Makiivka.

AFP| Updated: Sep 14, 2014, 06:31 AM IST

Makiivka: Sleeping in cellars, listening nervously for the next artillery attack, and too poor even to flee: welcome to the reality of Ukraine`s ceasefire for residents of rebel-held Makiivka.

In the small town in eastern Ukraine, government forces and insurgents are stationed within kilometres of each other, and there is nothing -- certainly not a week-old truce -- to stop the steady drumming of heavy weapons.

"The Ukrainians fire on houses, apartments. They say there are terrorists here, but where are they? There is nothing, not a single military position," said a pro-Russian insurgent from the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic, bearing a police badge around his neck and pistol in his belt.

The insurgent, who would only identify himself as Alexander, was interrupted by the thump-thump noise of a multiple rocket launcher.

"We know what that is," he said, conceding that he couldn`t tell whether the shots had come from government or rebel positions.

"But that," he said, pointing to an enormous crater caused by a heavy calibre weapon on Friday, "that`s a new weapon, one we don`t know. It`s terrible."

The continued stress of war is shattering already stressed nerves among those forced to live in this industrial region.

"A rocket fell in my garden," said resident Marina. "It blew out all the windows. Why? No one knows."

In an underground shelter, a 70-year-old grandmother who no longer has use of her legs, begged for true peace.

"Why are they shooting? As I`ve said, allow me to go there and I will take a white flag and ask on my knees: `Please don`t kill us, don`t kill all the people,`" Lyudmila said.

There has been no electricity here for two weeks, no mains water supply, no wages and no pensions paid. Cooking is done on wood fires, while children, all too aware of the danger, play close to their mothers -- ready, like everyone here, to dash down into the cellars.

"We are surviving here. Our grandparents, our children, and we are spending the nights in the basement. We are used to hearing the shelling all the time. Our children know whether it`s mortars falling, cannon or Grad," said resident Larissa Kashperskaya, referring to the indiscriminate Russian-made rocket system called Grad, meaning Hail.

"The ceasefire is hardly mentioned here. We don`t have television, no more radio, no Internet," she said. "We have nowhere to go. To flee requires money -- for rent, for petrol to put in the car. We have nothing left."The nearby city of Donetsk, the biggest in the conflict zone in Ukraine`s eastern rustbelt, has been in rebel hands for months, although government forces remain dug in at the airport.

Ukraine`s military said it drove off a rebel attack there late Friday. The airport has been in ruins since a battle in May, just a day after the election that brought President Petro Poroshenko to power.

"Many rebels, backed by six tanks, launched an assault against the airport on Friday which was heroically repelled by the soldiers," the military said, reporting more artillery strikes early Saturday.

But some residents in Donetsk`s Kievskiy district see little in the way of victory for either side -- only what they call a meaningless ceasefire.

"Whom can we trust now?" says Natalia, 60, pointing to an artillery round crater in her yard.

"I can`t believe anyone, because people believed (in the ceasefire) and a lot of them came back to Donetsk over the past few days.

"The result: do people have to die here?"

Viktor Smolin, a 59-year-old retired miner, pointed to where a mortar shell tore through another residential block.

"What person could feel this without shivering from fear?" he said.

"When they bomb, fire at women and elderly civilians, what can we feel? We are being killed here, simply killed."