The daughter of Ludmyla Solchynska in Svatove got word that the Court of Appeal of the Donetsk oblast dismissed her complaint on the sentence of a man involved in the death of her mother a week before the explosion at the ammunition depot tore to pieces another settlement —the Kharkiv Balakliia this time.
49-year-old Ludmyla Solchynska died because of the explosion of the ammunition depot, located practically on the outskirts of Svatove in the Luhansk oblast.
The tragedy occurred late on 29 October 2015; the woman was at work in the shop.
Not a single siren notified residents of the town about the emergency.
According to the local residents, the fire was visible for some time until the ammunition began to break.
Solchynska may have time to hide if there was a warning.
The town is bombarded with "Grad"
The fire at the ammunition depot in Svatove began on 29 October 2015 approximately at 19:30. 18-thousand town turned into a firing range for "utilization" of 3.5 thousand tons of ammunition, including the missiles from "Grad", "Uragan" and "Smerch" rocket system of volley fire over the next few hours.
Three "Grad" missiles from the burning depot landed in the house of Vasyl Taranukha. "I was sitting at the computer in pajamas at that time, — he remembers. — I fell and lost consciousness when the first "Grad" flew in. I opened my eyes — there was a fire. I run into the room — there were no windows anymore. I rushed to throw everything that was burning off. I went to change my clothes when I saw that things were bad. I just went into the dining room when the next shell flew in, breaking through three walls. A kitchen set fell on me — two refrigerators, wall drawers, — I fell out again. I opened my eyes — there was no light, only the glow of a fire. I started throwing out the burning things off the house again".
Hardly any of the ordinary residents of the town initially understood what the glow that they saw somewhere on the outskirts would turn out to be. Vasyl Taranukha decided that tank wagons left on the site of the former bulk plant were burning. "I thought that if there was something serious, they would turn on the siren", — he says.
Countryman of Taranukha Oleh Rybalkin learned about the fire at the ammunition depot and the death of Ludmyla Solchynska from social networks and news. At first, he and his wife just saw the glow of the fire far from the town. "I called the headmaster of the school, who lives in a high-rise apartment house on the fifth floor", — he says. — I asked what was happening there. She said: "Something terrible, there is such a flame… I went to the kitchen in order not to see this". They have a bomb shelter in the school. I told her: "Maybe we should go and open the bomb shelter?" She replies: "But no one calls, no one says anything..."".
The Rybalkins' neighbors went closer to the scene — to take pictures of what is happening on the smartphone. When they returned — without documents, money and "just in slippers", — their house was burned.
"We were staying at home, others fled, — Oleh explains. — Where to run if the shells scatter around?" It was felt how the earth trembled, the chandelier fell down at home. All seemed to calm down after 22 hours. The light was turned off, as well as gas for certain. But gas still was in the system, and at about 23:40 we decided to have tea. An explosion occurred, I was thrown back to the front doors, my wife stayed in the kitchen, the ceiling fell down on her. I saw that there was a huge flame and there was no roof. I thought that something fell into our house. I ran out into the street — it turned out that a shell fell in the yard of the neighbors. There was no panic. The wife was taking away the things. I was pumping water from the pump room and poured the neighboring house so that the flame did not spread to ours. At the same time, I tried to call the Ministry of Emergency Situations. They arrived about 40 minutes later, when the neighboring house was already burning down. We took the things away and left for the village. We returned in the morning. The portrayal was terrible…".
All Svatove suffered from the explosions of ammunition. Some lost "just" the broken windows, others, like the families of Vasyl Taranukha and Oleh Rybalkin, actually lost their homes. Vasyl says that his 4-year-old granddaughter stopped talking for a year under the influence of the experience.
Neither guilty nor victims
Two criminal cases were initiated after the fact of the incident in Svatove: one — by the Military Prosecutor's Office of the Luhansk garrison, the other — by the Security Service, the lawyer of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Yulia Naumenko tells, representing the interests of the suffered citizens.
The investigation considered two versions: an act of terrorism and neglect of duty. Then two cases were combined and handed over to the Main Military Prosecutor's Office. The only defendant was the Major Alexander Litvinenko, the head of military depots in Svatove.
The results of examination of the damage caused by the fire are still not available. The causes for what happened are not established too. "Someone considers that this is a terrorist act, someone — that it was done to hide the plundering of ammunition. Furthermore, there was a rotation at that time, the military drank at the depot that day, this is in the testimony", — the lawyer of the UHHRU says.
These nuances are of great importance. If the expertise came to a conclusion about the terrorist attack, the residents of Svatove could seek compensation for the destroyed housing on the basis of the Anti-Terrorism Law whereby Yulia Naumenko had already won several suits in the interests of IDPs. If it were the question of negligence of the Ministry of Defence employee, this ministry would have to pay compensation to the victims.
Svatovsky District Court passed a sentence on Major Litvinenko without waiting for the results of the expert reports, right on the anniversary of the tragedy, on October 28, 2016.
None of the victims was present on the trial.
The case concerning the chief of warehouses was allocated to a separate trial.
The Major made a deal with the investigation.
No victims or damage were involved in the case at all.
Alexander Litvinenko immediately got out of jail, as his term in the disciplinary battalion corresponded to the time he spent in jail in the calculation one day for two under the "Savchenko law".
Svatove residents and Litvinenko’s lawyer learned about it after the event.
Appeal of the sentence was just a formality. There was no hope for a positive result, since there were no victims in the Litvinenko case. Everyone in Svatove understood that the poor Major was just a scapegoat, the fault for the incident lays on people of a much higher rank, beginning with those who had decided to store ammunition within the town.
However, the procedure for applying to the European Court of Human Rights required this formality — the only right track left to those who suffered from the stockpiles.
While considering the complaint of Yulia Naumenko, the appeal court of the Donetsk oblast in support of its decision noted that "appellants are recognized as victims in another criminal proceeding".
But there are no accused in this proceeding. The victims do not know anything about its progress. Oleh Rybalkin says that the military prosecutor's office simply ignores all his requests.
Results after a year and a half after the tragedy: two criminal proceedings, in one of which the investigation found no accused persons, and in another — no victims.
"Compensations" from the Cabinet of Ministers
The bitterest thing in this story is a sense of betrayal. Svatove was almost the only town in Donbass, whose residents self-organized to make checkpoints: not to isolate themselves from the mythical Right Sector, but in order not to let the epidemic of "referendums" for independence from Ukraine, which spread throughout the Donetsk oblast.
The fact that the town suffered from Ukrainian weapons, resembling the places of the most desperate battles, and that the native state just turned away from it, became a terrible disappointment for the locals.
In the first months after the fire in Svatove's ammunition depot, they restored damaged social infrastructure and residential buildings. The special order of the Cabinet, which was issued only in the second half of November 2015, presupposed the allocation of almost USD 2 million for the restoration. The money from the state budget got to Svatove only in December.
In the first week after the incident, Oleh Rybalkin himself ordered an expert assessment of damages and design estimates for the work on the restoration of his house. It was estimated in USD 18 thousand.
"I gave these documents to the Svatove headquarters, headed by Yuriy Klimenko. He promised me a compensation of USD 18.5 thousand until December 29, referring to some document from the Cabinet, But on December 29 I was told to redirect all my documents to the city council. The time was lost, the budget year ended, the money was not used and returned to the state budget", — Oleh tells.
In 2016, the government did not allocate money for Svatove. The responsibility for the remaining restoration work was actually allocated to Svatove City Administration.
As a result, USD 370 is all the help that the Rybalkins received. This sum was given to those whose homes suffered badly. Most, like Vasyl Taranukha, got only USD 130 from the district budget.
"My house is unfit for living: the furniture is broken, all personal things burned", — Vasyl states. "It is impossible to repair it. I covered some windows with film and foam seal, took two windows from my neighbors, so that the house does not fall apart. For two years, I have been living in a house that is broken and cannot be heated. In winter, the temperature does not rise above 10-12 degrees Celsius. I never thought I would be in such a situation".
"We will have to live very long..."
Svatove's victims of fire in ammunition depots are waiting for the help of Kyiv and local authorities with the restoration of destroyed houses.
Vasyl Taranukha says that the locals had a great hope on adopting the law on compensation for private housing, "destroyed during the antiterrorist operation". Local authorities are still limited by the legislation, which does not allow spending budget money on restoration of private houses.
However, at the end of December 2016, the Verkhovna Rada cynically failed two relevant drafts, both from coalition and an alternative one. The main argument against their adoption sounded like a complaint against the allegedly pro-Russian and not patriotic titles of bills that supposedly implied the blame for the destruction on the Ukrainian army.
Parliament had not enough votes even to send these bills to the revision committee.
"Given that no one paid us anything for a year and a half, I think we will have to live very long to receive the compensation", — Oleh Rybalkin jokes.
Yuliia Abibok, OstroV