At Kramatorsk we arrive at the hostel at 6 am, after we buy a Vodaphone number (operator that replaced the Russian MTS in Ukraine). Not knowing the real dimensions of the city we start walking, but a man, that we ask about a specific address advises us to take the bus. The road is empty, you can rarely meat cars or people. The woman from the hostel checks us in, even if we arrived 6 hours earlier.

The Press cards are not enough 

The lady from the media center is surprised to hear introducing ourselves: "We are journalists". She answers us smiling: "No way, seriously?!..."  and hends us our Press cards that allow us in the ATO zone. She advises us not to go to the industrial zone near Avdeevka and, to be careful, as a general idea. Only later we found out that our Press cards are not enough to travel free in the ATO zone: you need the telegram of the First Commandant from the Kramatorsk's ATO zone .  

The women here can joke you arround with charm. The response "No way, seriously?!..." I heard and from another representative of the administration and also after we identified ourselves as journalists.    

The city is very large, although it has only almost 200.000 citizens. Before the war there was 150.000 and in the occupation by separatists period even less. After liberation, in July 2014, Kramatorsk started to revive, to rebuild and to get more "crowded" thanks to those that moved into the territories controlled by separatists.   


În fața casei de cultură din Kramatorsk

În fața casei de cultură din orașul Kramatorsk Foto: Sandu Tarlev

The history of a Stalker

The city was under the occupation of separatist from April 12th till July 5th, period in which there were problems with water delivery, of the power, that was disappearing once in a while, the factories did not work, no one had salaries, some people were deprived of their car, others, unfortunately, lost their life.

Although - says Serghei, a stalker, ex-taxi driver here at Kramatorsk, which transported to Donbas, in the times of high tension, journalists in the demarcation zone - about 30% of the citizens are OK with the separatists and they are also in their own way separatists. "On the time of occupation, I think 90% of the Kramatorsk people sustained separatists. Now, 30% of people are separatists", he points out, but we are looking at his bandaged hand and his scar that sneaks out under the bandages - a deformed memory of an shrapnel hit. 

Serghei found himself under the fire of multiple launcher while was transporting a group of journalists on the front line. The journalists managed to hide in the ditch, getting out unharmed, but Serghei's blood gushed from one shrapnel which teared to pieces his flesh. He evacuated all the journalists, driving the car with one hand: the other one holding to his chest. 

Now he is receiving treatment in Kiev, at a good hospital, there they took a nerve from his leg and transplanted it to his hand, to regain some functionality    

"Those 30% of separatists from the city are, mostly, poor people, that hate the Ukrainian Government. They watch Russian channels through dish antennas and they think that Russians will come and will give them 500$ per month salaries and pensions. We need to identify all the apartments that have dish antennas, to break in and to shot all of them without remorse", said Serghei.

Strada Vasilii Stusa(fosta stradă Soțialisticeskaia) din Kramatorsk în timpul ocupației Foto din arhiva personală a lui

Strada Vasilii Stusa(fosta stradă Soțialisticeskaia) din Kramatorsk în timpul ocupației separatiste din 2014 Foto din arhiva personală a lui Nikolai Dobvnea


„Ubejishce” and Dutin is a Pick

On Sunday, Kramatorsk, is empty as after a bombing. The architecture is mostly Stalin and Hrushiov style. A waiter explains to us that people are gone in vacation, in the last sunny days. On the walls of the houses you can see arrows with the inscription "Ubejishe" (Shelter). These shelters are in the basements of the buildings. There is a huge shelter at the NKMZ car factory, but they say that no one has access there. These shelters were created after the liberation of the city, to host people during bombings.


Inscripția „Ubeșijce”(adăpost) pe o casă de pe bd. Păcii din Kramatorsk Foto: Sandu Tarlev

Inscripția „Ubeșijce” pe o casă de pe bd. Păcii din Kramatorsk Foto: Sandu Tarlev

The city is obviously in a un-sovietization process. The streets are renamed. Lenin, Sotialisticeskaia, Frunze, Rosa Luxemburg and other like these are renamed. We have "5th July" street - the day of liberation of Kramatorsk, the "Holy hundred Heroes" street - the group of those 200 activists of the Maidan, that were killed in the center of the Kiev, and even Shakespeare street...

The Lenin Monument was broke down short after the liberation of Kramatorsk, the pedestal is waiting for another hero. Many people here do not love Putin: the inscription Dutin Pick, a transliteration of the renowned #PutinHui (#PutinDick) can be seen on many houses of the Kramotorsk.


„Hutin Pui” pe o clădire din Kramatorsk Foto: Sandu Tarlev

Înscripție „Hutin Pui” pe o clădire din Kramatorsk Foto: Sandu Tarlev

667.000 people took refuge in the Kramatorsk zone

Immediately after liberation, the city became more lively, a lot of people that ran from the bombings came back, and Kramatorsk was named the Center of Regional Administration of Donetk. A big part of the administration from Donetk came to Kramatorsk, others stayed under Russians. The Social Help Center was also transferred to Kramatorsk. Here we learn about the "tourist pensioner" phenomenon. It is a category of people which are living in territories occupied by terorists and that register themselves for pensions and salaries in Kramatorsk. These people manage to receive a pension from the Ukrainian Government and a smaller one from the separatists. Although the situation of these people is not pleasant. They decided to stay in their childhood places, to which they are bound, most of them being disappointed by the separatist power. But the prices there are two or three times higher than in the territory controlled by Constitutional Authorities. I pass the Ukrainian and separatists posts thanks to some special passes issued by SBU, on one side, and the structures from DNR and LNR, on the other. At the moment, the Social Help Center registered approximately 667.000 people who left Donetk and Lugansk territories and legalize themselves by Constitutional Authorities, around Kramatorsk.

The adrenaline must be compensated 

In the middle of Kramatorsk there is a rehabilitation center for ATO veterans (Anti-terrorists Operations). Here we find Volodimir and Ignat, veterans of the Donbas war. One is 25 and the other is 27 years old. The center works on the USAID's money. Here is a sport gym, veteran children can learn English and art. The soldiers participate at mountain climbing lessons, mountain camping, there is also a psychologist. All these are organised to compensate the adrenaline dose that ex-fighters received on the battlefield. "However, war is a men game, where is shaking a high dose of adrenaline. Being a civilian, you can not have that dose of adrenaline, so we try to compensate with sports", explained Volodimir, who is curious for what media institution we are working. Learning that we write in Romanian, he asks us if Romanian and Moldovan are alike. For him, this is unbelievable, never the less for him seems incredible and the fact that Transnistria celebrated 26 years of independence and that soon it will have registration numbers acknowledged internationally, that its study certificates will be acknowledged and that all the penal files on the case of separatists authorities that oppose the Constitutional Authorities will be closed.