Ukraine rebel Yevgeny fights on in Donetsk airport ruins
As soon as Yevgeny left hospital after being wounded in the battle for Ukrainian rebel stronghold Donetsk airport, he made his way back to the terminal's apocalyptic surroundings and returned to fighting.
“I was wounded last month, during an assault to take the airport from Ukrainian forces,” said pro-Russian separatist Yevgeny, 45, who has been fighting here for eight months.
“It was shrapnel from a tank shell. I came back here five days ago,” said Yevgeny, a farmer before the war.
“I had four hectares of land, just next to the airport, in Spartak village,” he said.
His village can be seen in the distance from a heavy machine gun position within the destroyed terminal.
Ukrainian forces are around a kilometre (just over half a mile) from the airport, separated by a no-man’s land littered with destroyed tanks and planes.
Donetsk airport is a ruin, gutted buildings, burnt vehicles and aircraft, twisted metal and concrete that bear no resemblance to the pristine modern buildings that were here nine months ago.
– No lull –
The airport was the scene of constant fighting since the end of May and rebels finally took control of the site on January 23, but the shelling continues.
“We pushed the Ukrainians back just one kilometre,” said Roman, 44, who commands a rebel unit at the airport.
“That doesn’t change anything for their artillery. They’re still in neighbouring villages. There’s no lull, the fighting continues as before.”
Constant artillery and tank fire could be heard around the airport on Saturday.
Next to Yevgeny, two Orthodox Christian icons and a small prayer book are fastened to the wall, near a disassembled Kalashnikov ready to be cleaned and oiled.
“The Ukrainians sometimes try to send groups of 40-50 men towards our positions, under cover of tank fire,” said a local commander who gave his name as “Grom” (Russian for thunder), explaining his unit’s sporadic outgoing machine gun fire.
Smoke rises in the distance from where Ukrainian shells hit Spartak village.
“They’re trying to hit our forces who are gathering intelligence over there,” said Grom, 34, a former bodyguard who is now part of the Vostok battalion.
Around a kilometre from the airport, two separatist tanks fire a few rounds from behind a building before rapidly changing position.
In this neighbourhood of one- and two-storey buildings, the nine-storey building is the only place to get a good view of the area.
The top floor is leaning badly, apparently about to collapse on the battle-scarred building.
All around lie branches torn from trees by shrapnel, rubble, torn power lines, empty ammunition cases and destroyed houses.
Nearby, a red-brick building with a cross on the front bears the sign “Good news”: an empty Protestant church that has also not escaped the conflict.