The need to pass physical identification in Oschadbank and the fear of losing the Ukrainian pension forced thousands of pensioners from the uncontrolled territory of the Luhansk region to "storm" the only in the oblast checkpoint "to Ukraine" in Stanytsia Luhanska a few weeks ago. Desperate elderly residents of the "republic", crippled by time and war, who suddenly flooded Stanytsia, shared their fears, common tales and realities of the "republican" life with OstroV.
Double gain and "fat belt"
Excitement in the offices of Oschadbank was caused by SMS to the displaced pensioners about the need to undergo a physical identification procedure. Otherwise, all payments will be stopped. The institution was forced to extend the terms of passing the identification for a month – until May 1, because of the "full house" that arose at the checkpoints and branches of the bank. This made it possible to relieve the pass control, and a familiar to this place picture is observed today at "Stanytsia Luhanska" entry-exit checkpoint – border guards register about five thousand people crossing the checkpoint in both directions, while an absolute record was made for all the time of work on March 21 – almost 8 thousand people. Also, according to the decree of the headquarters of anti-terrorist operation, checkpoints in the conflict zone in the Donbass temporarily shift to a new operating mode because of the influx of people wishing to cross the line of demarcation: the pass of citizens and vehicles will be carried out from 7.00 to 19.30.
"Everyone was just dumbstruck when SMS about the need to confirm that we are still alive and want to receive our pension began to come. Nobody knows anything, everyone is afraid of losing a single source of existence, and time is running out. I managed to pass the checkpoint relatively quickly. I came to the bank by 11, received an electronic ID card and went through an identification process by 16.00. Everything turned out to be much simpler in fact, and if there had been no queue, the procedure would have gone almost instantly", - pensioner Halyna says.
According to the woman, the majority of pensioners on territories not controlled by Ukraine are satisfied with the situation with obtaining "double pensions" - Ukrainian and "LPR". However, the amount of "republican" payments is usually not more than $35, which hardly allows surviving even in spite of dirt-cheap public utilities in the occupied territories. Cheap utilities are "compensated" by the high cost of products and medicines. On average, the "republican" prices exceed the Ukrainian ones twice. The recent ban of the "LPR" for the importation of fat and meat from territories under Ukraine's control has fairly "knocked down" the Luhansk old people who are accustomed going for such products to Stanytsia.
"Guess what, we are standing, drawing the duty… Grandmother comes and asks scotch tape or rope of us. It turned out that she tied round herself with fat like Shakhid with explosive and went "there". It is possible to understand her, we have fat at $0.7 and they have it at $1,8. The same is with vegetables. They get themselves out as best they can. If she is off the hook – will get a double gain", - a member of the Ukrainian law-enforcement agencies in the area of "Stanytsia Luhanska" entry-exit checkpoint told.
"Business", service and "dangerous" places
The winners also appeared because of the mess with identification – it was the local residents of Stanytsia. So, the difficulties arose for two residents of Alchevsk – identification took about four hours, but the men had to stay overnight in the village because of the banal problem – Oschadbank cash machine ran out of money, and there was no way to leave without cash. There are two options for overnight in Stanytsia which has never "suffered" from the influx of "pensionary" or any other tourists: to find a free shelter at the fire department from the rescuers, or to rent a bed in a private house with the same "late" citizens for $2.6.
The first option is extremely harsh and can surprise with its Spartan conditions - wooden deck chairs with blankets in a tent. The advantage – it is very warm in the tent, and the hospitable rescuers will give you free porridge or pasta and tea for free. The downside – the fire department is far from the checkpoint. Only adrenaline because of the coming darkness and the sounds of distant shooting will help to go on foot quickly. However, the locals are not afraid of the darkness or shelling. People are much more afraid of a night meeting with the military and willingly share information about where it is better not to go so as not to "fall across these". The correspondent visited a number of such "dangerous" places, especially provoking the military with sometimes frankly boorish conversations, initially presenting himself as "a resident of Luhansk". Whether it was our journalist who "was unlucky" or the military that was too peace loving, but in general, no one was punched in the face, and even was offered a help a couple times.
"Now everything is much easier than even six months ago. They shoot less and locals perceive the Armed Forces of Ukraine better. There are cases… They get drunk and go to our post at night to tell that "Banderas are shithead". They get slapped in the face, and then rumors that "Ukrainians beat for nothing" appear in the village. That would be savagery if some soldiers bullied adequate normal people, because they catch it in the neck from their command. And why on earth? There is an old lady here, in 2015 she said that she would poison us all. But after we mended her fence, she cooks Ukrainian borsch every day for us. It is okay, delicious actually. No one died", - Ukrainian soldier Bohdan serving in Stanytsia says.
At 7 pm, Stanytsia "dies out": there is no public transport at all, and the few taxi drivers waiting for the "victims" near the checkpoint will name a price depending on their mood, weather and the presence of conscience - from USD 2 to USD 5.
Paid version of the 3 dollar night’s lodging is most acceptable. The phone numbers of Stanytsia residents who offer night's lodging can be found in the tent of the State Service for Emergency Situations or near the Oschadbank branch in the center of the village. Here too, there is a nuance: all the details of the conditions of lodging need to be meticulously clarified in advance, because there is no competition in the "real estate rental market". For USD 3 you can be offered a warm, good house with a clean bed and free tea, but also a hovel deprived of windows and a lock on the door. So it is necessary to deal with the issue of lodging before the sunset, in order to have time to look at several options and to decide on the most suitable one. In extreme cases, rescuers will try to take care of everyone who gets to them.
It is not advisable to go outside at night – there are no interlocutors except for the police and the military, there is no light and you can hear the shots. Now the shooting is much quieter, but the night Stanytsia with its theoretical possibility to get under fire is not the best place to have a walk. For the same reason, it is recommended that you choose a night’s lodging away from the checkpoint. This area, according to the military, is the most susceptible to the nightly fire aggression of the militants.
"Be patient, we are almost there"
An 82-year-old Serhiy, Sorokino resident, told that his children left for the Russian Federation more than a year ago, and communication with them was lost when his mobile phone broke. Since then, the old man was living in a house built by himself, surviving with the help of compassionate neighbors and a stock of cereals and canned food. When it became clear that there was nothing to wait for, and no one had brought him a "double Russian pension", Serhiy collected all available documents and persuaded his neighbors to take him to the Ukrainian checkpoint. The pensioner, barely moving by himself, was taken by hand at uncontrolled territory of Ukraine by "local" rescuers and brought to a wooden bridge, where they handed the man over to Ukrainian military. The old man was brought to Ukrainian Stanytsia, handed over to volunteers and doctors, got temporary residence and documents that would allow him to get a Ukrainian pension.
"Son, I have lived too much to judge someone. It is difficult to understand what is happening. I do not understand. I have my own children, but I was accepted by those who are called punishers and murderers in the media. It is hard to understand... We are used to that if they say it on TV, it means it is true... I do not want to harm anyone, I am not afraid of anything, I regret a lot, and I want it to stop... There and here… there are kind people. Why is this all happening? I asked everyone, nobody knows", - child confusion, loneliness and fear of becoming a useless burden are in the eyes of the old man.
Old people are afraid not only of loneliness, but of scammers who are luring money from pension cards under the pretext of helping relatives or, allegedly, a blocked card. They are afraid of scammers who offer to legalize getting Ukrainian pension without leaving the territory beyond Ukraine's control and who then disappear with the paid 80 dollars. But the worst thing is to become unwanted. All Stanytsia fears that. Everyone has an interesting, rich life story, but, unfortunately, there is no one to tell it to.
Three people pass the checkpoint - a man and a woman of deep retirement age roll a wheelchair with a small bundle of moth-eaten blankets. It is difficult for an elderly couple to roll a wheelchair along a flat road, but pits, crooked wooden paths and curbs make their journey unbearable. The woman is ready to break into hysterics and sometimes looks at her companion, who whispers "hold on a little bit more". She continues to balance between her inner abyss of fatigue, despair and chronic arthritis, constantly adjusting something under the blankets. People try to help them and after 20 minutes they get to a taxi stand. While the man tries to find a taxi cheaper than 8 dollars, because "no one wants to damage the car with a wheelchair", the woman rolls it a couple of meters away and unfolds the blankets: "How are you feeling? Mom please, be patient, we are almost there...".
Ostap Gorodenko, Stanytsia Luhanska, OstroV