18 Feb 2015

Disputed Debaltseve: a ‘ceasefire’ with a soundtrack of shell fire

Once it had been a rather pleasing ticket hall, but now the country station is now part of an obliterated warscape of gaunt, burned-out buildings – window holes like the smashed empty eye-sockets of a skull.

The splash marks of shell debris plaster the walls here. The station ticket office with the jagged holes from artillery punched through the light blue-washed walls.

Outside, utterly still in the mournful flat vastness of the winter steppe, the freight cars, idle and snow-topped , going nowhere.

Over the footbridge the few civilians who have somehow stayed through the battle are carting sacks of coal, or in one case a television.

These sidings here part are of the great rail freight network which comes together in the rail junction town of Debaltseve just three miles from Vuhlehirsk where we are filming.

The distant crump and rumble of inbound shells and Grad rockets still thunders around the town. Every now and then the sudden air-punch as more shells are fired out from the artillery positions and tanks here.

If the Ukrainians are leaving Debaltseve as they say they are, they are not going quietly.

Nor are the rebel guns falling silent. At least whilst we were there.

Tanks with the flags of the People’s Republic of Donetsk grind towards the embattled town but now we are seeing victory V signs from those aboard.

So too from passing trucks and armoured personnel carriers churning the late winter mix of snow dust and dust dust into the still frosty air. And they are charging through a landscape of destroyed towns and villages for miles around Debaltseve.

What state that town is in we have yet to discover but the world will soon see, it appears.

A passing soldiers tells us: “See – we are taking back what is our land,” well – taking it they most certainly are.

But will that being peace – a real, lasting peace? Few here seem to think so.

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