Deadly fighting rages on in east Ukraine despite plane crash

This article is more than 12 months old

Pensioner Oleksandr had just stepped out of his house in eastern Ukraine to say hello to a neighbour when a mortar shell landed at his feet.

He died several minutes later, with his hand blown off and his stomach torn open.

“They are fighting and we are in the middle of it!” Lyudmila, his grieving widow, told AFP in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

“If they enjoy fighting so much then they should just go to a field and beat each other up there. I just want to live in peace.”

After Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed on Thursday in the strife-torn region, killing all 298 passengers aboard, both Kiev and the pro-Russian rebels it has been fighting for months raised the possibility of a ceasefire.

But in reality, the bullets never stopped flying.

Ukraine’s armed forces over the weekend pushed on with their operation to stamp out the rebels controlling the south-east part of Lugansk, with combat over the last 24 hours leaving 13 wounded in the industrial hub.

The border with Russia is the scene of daily skirmishes, while around Donetsk – a city of nearly one million – fighting carried on unabated.

Lyudmila said she had only just arrived home when she heard a loud noise.

“I came out and Oleksandr had a hand sliced off and several wounds in the stomach. Our neighbour tried to help him as far as he could. The ambulance took just over half an hour to arrive as there were too many shots being fired. He died before that.”

“I don’t care who is the government but this must end,” she said, tears flowing.

'I’m going nuts’

Just a few hundred metres from that spot, Vitaly Maistrenko was wounded in his legs by mortar shells while he was sitting in his garden.

The impact in the middle of the carnation-lined garden was visible and the bench he was sitting on was still soaking in blood.

On the other side of the street, the roof of a home that did not survive the pounding. Luckily, there were no victims as the house was empty like many in every two in this area.

“Everyday there are shots, day and night, and yesterday was horrible. We would like to leave too but our parents are too old and ill. So we are staying here and praying but for how long? Look at the state of that house, we can’t do anything to protect against that,” said one local resident.

Several metres further, in a street that had visibly been subject to heavy bombardment, a couple with their 18-year-old daughter arrived carrying big plastic bags filled to the brim. Behind her, an elderly woman struggled to keep up.

“They are leaving but I’m staying. I just came to say goodbye to them,” the 84-year-old said. “I’m old. How can I leave the house where I have lived all my life?”

Her daughter Alina, who works in a factory in the city said: “I can no longer live here. I’m going nuts. It’s now been two months that we’re going to bed at night wondering if we’re going to open our eyes in the morning.”


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