Until 112 days ago, the bus on the G6 line that runs through Kramatorsk, a key city on the front lines of the war that Ukraine is waging against Russia, was packed with people. Today, however, it is an almost empty vehicle moving through dreary streets picking up old men from nearby villages and women trying to buy a little cheaper at the Parkova street market. More than three months ago, the public transport company had 380 workers, of which a third remain, and of the more than 100 buses that had worked, only the 16 that have batteries operate, due to lack of fuel. Before the Russian offensive in Donbas, the topics of conversation were the increase in the price of food, delays in public transport or the size of cherries due to the arrival of the heat, but now, or there are no topics of conversation and silence commands, or is it always the same: war, explains the driver.
It’s 9 a.m. on a weekday Friday in Kramatorsk, a city of 200,000 a few miles from where Russia and Ukraine are engaged in the heaviest fighting, and the G6 line bus is preparing to start a route from Tikhogo street, go along Shota Rustaveli, continue along Rzhavskogo and Parkova and end at the bus station.
A two-hour journey after which it can be concluded that the Ukrainian is an optimistic being. In the midst of a bleak present, the passengers consulted —most of them women— always include positive conclusions in the new scenario. “Now there is more room to sit,” says an older woman. “The exchange of products has become the new way of eating,” says a mother who comes from looking for potatoes at a friend’s house. And even the driver, Igor Lomakin, acknowledges that now they insult him less for delays or braking and thank him for continuing to provide service amid bombs and explosions.
Tatiana, 52, and her daughter Svitlana, 26, are the first two to climb into the village of Nivosélivka, a cluster of small, gabled-roof houses on the outskirts of Kramatorsk, embedded in a green, well-cultivated landscape. which borders Russia. Since the beginning of the war, the public transport company has added some nearby towns to the route so as not to leave dozens of elderly people in need of food and medicine abandoned to their fate.
Svitlana carries a bucket full of potatoes from her harvest, which she will trade for lettuce with a friend. “People are sad and scared and don’t want to leave their house or their garden,” she explains. “We spent the first stage of the war in the house of relatives in Dnipro, but we have been back for almost more than a month. We don’t have money to continue living away from home and here at least we have what the field gives, ”she says sitting in the back of the bus. Mother and daughter explain the shortages they are going through and that they do not even have water because the pipes are damaged after many days under artillery fire, so they must seek the help of a neighbor who has a well, but with whom they they have been angry “He says that we can no longer get more water because it could run out for him. The war brings out the best and the worst in each one”, says the daughter indignantly. Well, she clarifies her mother “in reality, she only reveals what each one of us was before.”
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In the new Kramatorsk at war there are no traffic jams and despite the fact that the company has fewer buses, they are enough to move the few people who have a job. According to the mayors of the area consulted, in most of the towns in this part of Ukraine between 60% and 75% of the population have left. The almost 15 million people who have left their homes in the last three months in Ukraine come from places like this: seven million to nearby countries such as Romania, Poland or Moldova, and another eight million have left the troubled east to move to the west of the country. , according to the United Nations office for refugees. A geographical reconfiguration that has changed the face of this part of the country, with a Russophone majority.
The bus enters the urban area of the city through Stratosferna street, where Tatiana and Julia, two middle-aged friends, get on, coming from buying underwear and fruit at the street market. “Everything is more expensive, but we have to move forward,” says Tatiana. “There are no shops open, so this is the only option,” adds her friend. While missiles are a thing of the past in many parts of the country, “here we still spend a lot of nights in the basement,” she adds.
The bus proceeds along Rustaveli and stops for a few minutes at Rzhavskogo where a man with a toolbox gets on. The bus in Kramatorsk has a new meaning since the morning of April 8, Russia launched two missiles against the city’s train station, where the population was waiting to be evacuated. That attack against the civilian population left 60 dead, 100 wounded and a huge scar on the state of mind of a population. Since then, the bus has been the means used for evacuations, many of them in Belarusian buses like this one. According to the director of the company, Andriy Tatianko, his new task in times of war “is not to manage, but to solve one problem after another”, he explains resignedly. “Trolleybuses without electricity, spare parts that don’t arrive, drivers that don’t come back…”, describes the director, who sleeps in the facilities. “Now it is necessary to be 100% operational, we are at war,” he sums up.
In the final stretch of the route, when everything indicated that the journey would end in drowsiness and faces resting on the glass, the tsunami erupted inside the vehicle. Before facing Parkova Street, a slight accident in the next lane ignited the spark when a car driven by two soldiers collided with another vehicle without any consequence. Everything would have ended in an anecdote until a woman with many centimeters of blonde headdress sitting in the back said to herself, but wanting to be heard:
—All the problems generated by these soldiers. Always at full speed and, totally, for what they are doing,” he said in Russian.
The phrase, far from being suspended in the air, was picked up by another passenger several rows later.
“How come they don’t do anything?” These people are fighting for your country, do you think that is not enough? She also answered in Russian.
—For what has been achieved… Look how everything is now. There is nothing but destruction,” she replied.
“Shut up ma’am. You’re a separatist,” shouted another woman sitting at the opposite end of the bus.
“Nothing separatist, I only know that a bad peace is better than a good war,” answered the first woman.
And so, for several more streets, the silent bus suddenly became a branch of the market and Congress, but with the suffering and pain traveling in the seat next to him.
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