Living A Year Without Power in War-Torn Eastern Ukraine
19 June, 2017

150 residents in Zhovanka, a village on the east of Ukraine, have lived without power for a year. This is yet another consequence of the war in the east of Ukraine between the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Russian-backed separatists. Since the war began in 2014, it has displaced upwards of a million people and, according to the United Nations, over 10,000 have been killed.

Photo credit: Mykola Donduk/HROMADSKE

Zhovanka is actually a part of Zaytseve village, which is divided by the contact line. Russian-backed separatists control only a part of it.

Most of the residents are elderly, spending their pensions on medicine, torches and petrol for the generators.

Hromadske went to Zhovanka to find out why it's so difficult to repair the power lines and if this is only the case during war time.

Photo credit: Mykola Donduk/HROMADSKE

800 people lived in Zhovanka before the war, now there are only 150 and most of them are pensioners. They don’t have bullet-proof vests or helmets. None of the houses here are undamaged. Locals say that shellings happen every day and bullets from snipers fly overhead whilst people are in their backyards. In addition, they have a gone a year without power in Zhovanka.

“On 25 June 2016 the power lines were damaged by the shelling. Three villages - Zhovanka, Bakhmut and Pisky - lived off this power line, which went to Horlivka, and these three residential areas have not had power for a year,” said Zhovanka resident, Liudmyla Pakhmova.

Liudmila lives in Zhovanka and has set up a humanitarian centre, which the locals call the “Garage”. They hand out the humanitarian aid that they sometimes receive. Here you can ask for plastic sheets to cover-up broken windows and once a week military doctors come here to examine people and give them medicine. Some people go to the centre simply to chat and exchange news. Liudmila also keeps people’s official documents safe and hides them, because “God forbid they get burnt when shells fall on the buildings”.

Photo credit: Mykola Donduk/HROMADSKE

“They promised that they were about to start repairs a year ago. They say that they can’t negotiate with the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ for a ceasefire. They could bring power from the Toretsk to us, that’s under Ukrainian control. But all they have done is brought over some poles and left them on the grass. They haven’t repaired anything, even in the places where there isn’t any shooting. If we could, we would have brought the power line to the village ourselves, just drag them to our village”, Liudmyla told Hromadske.

Next to the “Garage” gates stands an elderly man with a cane. This is Mykola Petrovych, he can barely see anything. He looks after his bedridden wife, with whom he has lived for almost 60 years. He is a veteran who used to live in Kyiv, where some of his distant relatives still reside. He moved to Horlivka with his wife. Their children are buried here. The elderly couple has nowhere to go:

“I live there, on the contact line. The street is in Ukraine and the garden is in ‘DPR’. Where the vegetable garden ends, from there they'd shoot. Now we don’t have water. The day before we couldn’t leave the cellar at all before twelve at night. My wife can’t walk, and while I was carrying her down there, three shells went off nearby. We had to crawl out on our knees. So this is how we live, without water, power, firewood, coal. There’s nowhere to escape”.

The Donetsk Military and Civil Administration has provided five generators for all of Zhovanka, so that people can charge their phones and print off their pension documents. People pay for the fuel for the generators out of their own pensions. Many people spend money on radiators, torches and stoves.

Photo credit: Mykola Donduk/HROMADSKE

A year on, the Donetsk Military Civilian Administration promise that they are about to start repairs, they say they are just waiting for permission from the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) for a ceasefire. Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE set up the JCCC in 2014 to help implement and maintain ceasefire agreements. The last time they promised power was March 8, 2017. It has been four months. Hromadske appealed again to the head of the Administration, Pavlo Zhebirivskiy, as to why they are not able to restore power to the village:

“We have started the restoration process. We have allocated funds, there is a project in place, but the snipers continue to fire. It’s just the security issue that is stopping us. The Ukrainian side has given their permission for a ceasefire, but the Russian side still haven't given the same permission," he told Hromadske.

In response to Hromadske’s question: “How many times have you requested a ceasefire?” the JCCC answered: “constantly." However, they did allude to the fact that their priority is areas of infrastructure that need repairs, and therefore also need a ceasefire, such as in Avdiivka and the nearby Donetsk Filtration Station.

According to the latest report from the Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, ceasefire violations have escalated over recent months. Between 16 February and 15 May, with 36 civilian deaths and 157 injuries. This is an increase of 48% from the previous three months.

Photo credit: Mykola Donduk/HROMADSKE

Recently, the head of the Bakhmut Military and Civil Administration, Volodymyr Vyesolkin, told Hromadske that they had come up with a "Plan B" for supplying power to Zhovanka from Ukrainian-controlled territory. He explained that if the project is approved, it should take two months to restore electricity to Zhovanka.

In the meantime, after watching Hromadske's report Pavlo Zhebrivskiy, the head of the Donetsk Military and Civilian Administration has  deliver a generator from Avdiivka for the repairs.

/Translated by Sofia Fedeczko

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