14 Feb 2015

Death rains down on Ukraine as the clock ticks down to midnight

Bear in mind we are still in the period where both sides are allowed to inflict terrible wounds and visit death upon each other until midnight tonight.

So they are.

All night and all of the day volleys of rockets, mortars and artillery have been raining down upon civilians and soldiers alike in Donetsk. I counted 64 separate explosions between 10.30am and 11.00am for example and it has gone on like that all day.

Several missiles fell close to the city theatre where – incredibly – they still manage weekend matinee shows. Some actors have to live in the building because of the fighting. Scenery is inaccessible in a warehouse under fire. Yet even the explosions today so close by did not end the show.

It must go on. It does. Twenty minutes before curtain up, in his dressing room, one of the cast says: “It is more important than ever before – we have to bring people some joy, some escape from it all.”

Dressed up for the occasion, the women teeter in on killer heels and ostentatiously attend to make-up in the foyer, then pose for pictures from boyfriends and husbands as if all were normal outside.

Indeed, the Valentine’s Day buzz extends outside. A bride and her bridesmaids pose for snaps even as a rebel fighter with Kalashnikov wanders by behind them.

Sadly, the performance inside never finished today. Mortar rounds landed near the theatre, killing at least two civilians.

The audience hid inside , then quietly left. They tell me tomorrow’s matinee looks “uncertain”.

Sometimes the show simply cannot go on to its conclusion and one of those times is now in Eastern Ukraine.

Tanks rumble through the largely empty streets, grinding the wrong way up one-way roads to do battle as the clock ticks down to midnight.

But nobody believes the ceasefire will hold. The rebel leader of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Alexander Zakharchenko, has this to say about the ceasefire : “We stop the fire, except for inland areas of the DNR. Any attempt to break out of Debaltseve will be stopped by us.”

Debaltseve is the Ukrainian-held railway junction town, all-but-surrounded by rebel forces, where several thousand Ukrainian solders are said to be holding out.

So that does not look any more promising than the forecast offered by “Cat”, the educated and Russian-accented spokesman for the rebel Vostok Battalion of rebels, who told us:”Well there may be some kind of ceasefire but pretty soon it will all go back to the fighting, just like the last two ceasefires did. ”

That is how it looks out in the ghost-town suburbs of Donetsk, where packs of starving dogs trot across the glass of a thousand shattered windows on streets so silent you can hear the crows caw around you and the shelling rumbling all around that.

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