The entrance to the village of Marinka was closed due to the ongoing shelling in the morning, but literally 10 minutes before our arrival the shelling stopped and we were allowed in. The village is completely empty – not a soul on the streets. The doors to the police station are barricaded, and the windows – shattered. The shops, banks and other public institutions have all been abandoned.
We're going somewhere into the depths, in the direction of Donetsk. None of us sitting in the van packed with freshly baked bread really knows in whose territory we are now – Ukrainian or that of the DPR (Donetsk People's Republic). Our escort lost his way. We turn around and head back somewhere or the other. . . . . . Inside the van, the tension increases. Ah, here we are – a village house, remodeled near the local church. We open the rear door of the minivan and begin to unload the bread. As if emerging from the ground, some local residents appear. They take the bread and help us with the unloading. We work as quickly as possible – we do not know where we are and when the attacks will resume.
"Five hundred," Gennady finishes his count. That's it. Off we go again.
We make our way back to the entry to the village and turn the other way, toward the next drop-off point – Krasnogorovka. "Do you see those piles?" asks Galina. "That's where the DNR snipers station themselves, and we're in full view of them for the next kilometer and a half, so this is where we pray especially hard and move forward at full speed."
We pass a Ukrainian checkpoint and drive to Krasnogorovka. The streets are empty. In some high-rise buildings you can see the holes created by falling shells. Broken windows are almost everywhere. We travel to the other edge of the city, and turning off somewhere into a courtyard, we notice a crowd of people. "They are here all day," says Galina. "They are afraid they might miss us. After all, we don't have enough for everybody."
The ground beneath our feet shakes from exploding shells about a mile from us. The locals don't respond to these sounds –they're used to them. They say that during meetings, sometimes the building shakes, and recently a large piece of debris landed on the roof and broke through, but thank God, no one was in the building at the time.
We begin handing out bread. After 10 minutes, everything's been passed out, but people keep coming. To the especially weak and elderly we give some of what we had allotted for the church. Then we unload warm clothes from a truck – these were donated by Christians from Springfield, Massachusetts. "On Saturday we will distribute them to the needy," says Pastor Sergey. One of our cars takes off to the local school to get some tape for the broken windows. Glass is useless – it will again end up shattered, and even though tape isn't very warm, it's more reliable.
There's no heat in the buildings and homes, and we don't expect there will be any this winter. There is water in some places, but more often than not this is only until the first frosts. Electricity has recently been restored, but you can count on ongoing interruptions in power.
The car returns from the school with an old woman and three small children. Their father drowned last year, the mother drank herself to death and was gone, and now the grandmother takes care of her grandchildren. They’re destitute. They lived in the ruins. The school principal and teacher were helping them survive. We take them in and if they agree, we will transport them to a safe place. In spite of everything that is going on around here, many people don't want to leave.
The pastor mentioned the situation in the city.
We must leave before dark so that we don't attract the snipers with our headlights. We're too late. We leave as darkness is descending. 100 meters from the checkpoint, Gennady cuts off the headlights. In the same way, we drove away from the checkpoint in the dark. Up ahead the road is raked by sniper fire. We turn on the headlights and speed through the dangerous stretch.
Two more checkpoints. The sounds from the explosions retreat, then men move closer. We drive on for two hours. Kramatorsk. Slavyansk. We make it back.