6 Sep 2014

Inside the shards and rubble of Luhansk airport

I met some Russian tourists just outside Luhansk airport on Friday. At least, that’s what they said they were as they posed for the camera in their varied uniforms and headgear, weapons proudly displayed.

“Azerbaijan!” came one reply.
“Belarus!”
” Tajikistan!”

“The whole USSR,” we said and they laughed.

These were rebels, supposedly from the local area, who had come to man the checkpoint after their victory over the Ukrainian National Guard at the airport earlier this week.

We had spent a little time at their checkpoint before, as they radioed ahead to see if we would be allowed to visit the airport.

They were wary at first and followed the normal protocol of not letting us film their faces, but by the time we came back we were old friends.

Why did they want their photo taken?

“So the land will remember us,” said one with features that suggested he came from¬†¬† one of the Asian former Soviet republics.

I don’t think the land will forget them. Even if the ceasefire lasts, the marks of this conflict will endure.

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Ukrainian tourists used to fly on their holidays to Sharm el Sheikh and Corfu from Luhansk airport.

Now twisted metal, old artillery casings, ballistic missile launchers, rusting wire and debris are scattered across the entire area.

As we picked our way through the shards and rubble, carefully avoiding ordnance that might still be live, we found a discarded DVD case – it was for the Arnold Schwarzenegger film “End of Days”. It did indeed look like a scene from the apocalypse.

In the city of Luhansk the damage is less, but apartment buildings and houses have been destroyed by the shells the Ukrainian army was firing from the airport before they were crushed by what can only have been a Russian attack.

The rebels don’t have the heavy weapons to cause the level of destruction we saw.

So who will rebuild all this? The ceasefire freezes the battle lines, so Luhansk remains a “People’s Republic”, not quite part of Ukraine and not quite part of Russia.

The government in Kiev won’t invest in reconstruction. Maybe Moscow will. Or maybe the ruined buildings and the airport will remain as they are, monuments to a frozen conflict which will remain unresolved for years to come.

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