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The invisible war of Donetsk


The "capital" city of the DNR is turning into a showcase for journalists. It is getting more and more difficult to look beyond the surface, and even going to the front it does not help to understand a lot more of this war. There is no more hostility towards Western reporters – as it used to be a couple of months ago –, the city continues its slow return to an apparent routine, while the new institutions are increasingly taking an official semblance.

The “capital” city of the DNR is turning into a showcase for journalists. It is getting more and more difficult to look beyond the surface, and even going to the front it does not help to understand a lot more of this war. There is no more hostility towards Western reporters – as it used to be a couple of months ago –, the city continues its slow return to an apparent routine, while the new institutions are increasingly taking an official semblance. Meanwhile, the blasts have become a soundtrack one gets soon use to, as a couple of miles from the center shelling is still killing people. This is a war that everyone can hear but hardly see.

Photo: Danilo Elia 
The first thing to do once in Donetsk is going to the seventh floor of the government building and get a press accreditation. It is a useless piece of paper only good for police and militia checking documents at every corner. When trying to go a little beyond the facade of the town center, that piece of paper is definitely not enough. What you need, is right contacts in the militia. Even tough, there is always some higher poppy ready to stop you. And even when you reach one that claims to be the leader, then it is not even clear who is in charge.
I think it’s a deliberate strategy of the infowar going on for months now. The general feeling is that everyone has something to hide. The facade shows not to fear the curious eye of Western journalists, but the truth is that only the Russian reporter of Lifenews and RT can go anywhere. And tell their version.
 
Photo: Danilo Elia Cargo 200
The fields around Ilovaisk have seen the harshest battle so far. The Ukrainian army suffered huge losses due to a strategic error that led his men straight into the jaws of the separatist fire. It was one of the turning points of the war, and one of the events that threw suspicion on a Russian military aid to separatist militia that, according to some, could not do it alone.
I had to get an unofficial authorization from the militia to visit the area of the battle. They did not even looked at my colored accreditation. Along with a Cargo 200, the Russian acronym that identifies the transport of the fallen, we searched cornfields full of the remains of the battle. On the ground, smashed helmets, some unexploded grenades and remnants of the Russian army rations. When the curiosity and questions have gone a bit over, the mission was aborted and we had to return to Donetsk.
Photo: Danilo Elia  
A battle like many others
You cannot shoot anything. You cannot ask questions. It is difficult to reach fight areas and, even when you manage to, you cannot do anything but what they want. Yet the war is there, anyone can hear it. And  see the effects. The northern suburb of Yasinovata was heavily bombed, most likely by the Ukrainian army. Unlike other districts, it is still inhabited. Eight story buildings are half burned like coals while clothes are hanging outside the other half. Mortars left holes between the fourth and fifth floors. Burnt cars lay in the courtyard. Who did not flee, sleep in the basement.
While there with a colleague, the hissing of the wind chill is broken by sudden explosions. They are one, two kilometers away, in the village of Avdiivka. The DNR militia is attempting a maneuver to encircle the Ukrainian army, but it will fail and will be another massacre. Again, the morgue of the hospital Kalinin will be filled with livid bodies. Three militiamen come and send us back to Donetsk. This is a war zone. Because this is a war that cannot be told.

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