Peace in 2 Don­bas cities lets peo­ple re­build lives


KRAM­A­TORSK, Ukraine — As fight­ing raged for the city of Kram­a­torsk three years ago, Ivan and Elena Starozhuk spent days hud­dled in the base­ment of their house, sur­viv­ing from day to day, with no thought for the fu­ture.

But peace has long since re­turned to this Donetsk Oblast city, some 540 kilo­me­ters south­east of Kyiv. And although it is lo­cated just 80 kilo­me­ters from the front­lines of Rus­sia’s war on Ukraine in the Don­bas, the cou­ple says they feel safe there now.

Their thoughts of the fu­ture have re­turned: the cou­ple got mar­ried on Aug. 15, and they are hop­ing to start a fam­ily in the next cou­ple of years.

There has been no fight­ing any­where near the city since July 6, 2014, when the Ukrainian army lib­er­ated it from oc­cu­pa­tion by Rus­sian-led forces, and the Starozhuks don’t ex­pect war to re­turn to the city.

How­ever, the war still af­fects them in­di­rectly. Lo­cals say prices in cafes and restau­rants have in­creased since October 2014, when the city be­came the ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­ter of Donetsk Oblast in­stead of Rus­sian-oc­cu­pied Donetsk.

The Starozhuks said they couldn’t af­ford a posh wed­ding reception in a restau­rant, so they just in­vited some of their clos­est friends to the registry of­fice and had a wed­ding pho­to­shoot in a lo­cal park with wooden sculp­tures of fan­tas­tic beasts in­spired by the paint­ings of Ukrainian artist Maria Pry­machenko.

How­ever, the Starozhuks also said life in Kram­a­torsk has got better in some ways. The city has built and new roads, playgrounds and parks, and re­paired old ones.


And in many ways life in Kram­a­torsk and Slo­viansk — another big Donetsk Oblast city nearby, home to 113,000 peo­ple — is very sim­i­lar to that in cities in other re­gions of Ukraine: Peo­ple stroll through the streets at an easy pace, re­lax near the large foun­tain in the city cen­ter, and visit parks, cafes and movie the­aters.

On the main square in Kram­a­torsk, Denys Ovcharenko, his wife Maryna, and their 15-year-old daugh­ter Olga feed pi­geons near the empty plinth of the city’s top­pled Lenin statue. It’s rare for them to spend time to­gether, be­cause Denys, who works as a landmine clearer, only has a few days off ev­ery month.

The fam­ily lives in the out­skirts of the city, and oc­ca­sion­ally goes to the

cen­ter to have din­ner in a lo­cal café, or goes to see a movie. On hol­i­days, the fam­ily usu­ally at­tends con­certs held in Ber­nad­sky Gar­dens, and in Pushkin Park, which is cur­rently un­der re­con­struc­tion.

The 35-hectare Ber­nad­sky Gar­dens is one of the old­est parks in the city. It was re­con­structed in 2016 and since then most of the hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions in Kram­a­torsk have been held there. It’s also a pop­u­lar place for fam­i­lies with small chil­dren, such as Ar­tur and Yelisaveta Oliynyk and their two-year-old daugh­ter Var­vara.

The Olyinyks say they of­ten visit Ber­nad­sky Gar­dens, or the foun­tains near the city’s cen­tral square and city coun­cil building. They de­cided to have a child af­ter the Ukrainian army re­gained con­trol of Kram­a­torsk and the sit­u­a­tion in the re­gion sta­bi­lized.

The Olyinyks say there are few op­tions for go­ing out in the city with a kid, es­pe­cially an ac­tive one like Var­vara. The fam­ily’s favorite spots are the Yu­bi­leynyi amusement park and Pushkin Park, although that is cur­rently un­der­go­ing re­con­struc­tion. On the week­ends, the fam­ily of­ten trav­els to a beach on the Siver­sky Donetsk River in Bru­sivka, 30 kilo­me­ters from Kram­a­torsk.

“Kram­a­torsk is a nice city, calm and well-kept, and a good one for young peo­ple,” Ar­tur said.

Cafes and bars

Sur­pris­ingly, many of the cafes and bars in Slo­viansk and Kram­a­torsk are sim­i­lar to those in Kyiv — at least in terms of prices, if not in qual­ity and style. The cost of a main course varies from Hr 90–230 ($3.50–8.90).

Kram­a­torsk also has an Al­chemist Bar — the name­sake of a pop­u­lar cock­tail bar in Kyiv. The bar’s owner, Volodymyr Dushko, a na­tive De­nis Zhyzhchenko, 17, rides a quad bike in the cen­ter of Kram­a­torsk in Donetsk Oblast on Aug. 14 as his friends are watch­ing. of Kram­a­torsk, started the busi­ness in his home­town around a year ago.

Lo­cals says that lots of new cafes have popped up in Kram­a­torsk over the last two years. Some of them, like Kofi­lac­tika and Ur­ban’s Café, have mod­ern designs sim­i­lar to Kyiv’s hip­ster venues. Ac­cord­ing to the city coun­cil, at least four cafes opened in Kram­a­torsk in 2017.

But fam­i­lies like the Ovcharenkos and Oliynyks usu­ally go to fast­food restau­rants, such as the burger restau­rant Kryla, lo­cated in a heart of Kram­a­torsk, or go to a pizze­ria, be­cause “the prices there are fair and af­ford­able,” Denys Ovcharenko said. He said his fam­ily loves go­ing to more chic restau­rants as well, but they can’t af­ford to go of­ten be­cause of the high prices.

Both fam­i­lies of­ten go to Ria Pizza — one of the most pop­u­lar places in town and the only one that works 24-hours. The pizze­ria, which is busy even on week­day evenings, is lo­cated near another cheap and crowded place fa­vored by young peo­ple — the Aroma Kava cof­fee shop.

How­ever, a pricy restau­rant with a ter­race in front of the lo­cal cinema, called Ro­d­ina, is also packed with peo­ple. Many of them are vol­un­teers and mem­bers of in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions that pro­vide hu­man­i­tar­ian aid in the Don­bas.

On the week­ends, there are live per­for­mances by lo­cal mu­si­cians in Ro­d­ina, and DJs play sets in the Al­chemist bar.

Young peo­ple

Nine­teen- year- old Dmytro Ostroushko is a barista in the Prosto Kava cof­fee shop in Slo­viansk. He said that de­spite the city hav­ing re­vived af­ter its lib­er­a­tion in July 2014, there still aren’t many places for young peo­ple to hang out.

The out­skirts of Slo­viansk were heav­ily shelled in 2014, but in the city cen­ter there are al­most no signs of war, apart from the aban­doned House of Cul­ture, which was badly dam­aged by shelling in 2014.

As in Kram­a­torsk, some new venues have opened in the last two years, in­clud­ing a mod­ern bar­ber­shop and the stylish café Prosto Kava, where one can, as well as drink­ing cof­fee, also buy a hand­made toy made by the café’s own­ers.

Af­ter work, Ostroushko of­ten goes for a walk near the salt lakes that sur­round Slovyan­sky Kurort (Slo­viansk re­sort) Park in the north-east part of the city. Slovyan­sky Kurort, which has sev­eral cafes and night­club, is a pop­u­lar en­ter­tain­ment spot for lo­cals.

Ostroushko said that he is not a fan of clubs, and, un­like many lo­cal young peo­ple, he doesn’t like to dress up and hang out on the city’s main streets or cen­tral square af­ter sun­set.

Ostroushko also said cul­tural events for young­sters in Slo­viansk are reg­u­larly put on by vol­un­teers from the youth or­ga­ni­za­tion Te­plyt­sia, which was founded in 2015. Te­plyt­sya or­ga­nizes movie screen­ings, mu­sic con­certs and public dis­cus­sions, along with var­i­ous work­shops.

Extreme sports fans can find op­tions in both Slo­viansk and Kram­a­torsk. Paraglid­ing from the Karachun hill be­tween Slo­viansk and Kram­a­torsk costs around Hr 400.

Back in Kram­a­torsk, a group of young­sters are do­ing wheel­ies on quad­bikes and mopeds on the large cen­tral square.

One of them, 17-year-old De­nis Zhyzhchenko, says that he started rid­ing quad­bikes for fun, but quickly got hooked, and now spends al­most all of the money he earns from his part-time job on em­bel­lish­ments and ex­tra parts for his ma­chine.

The newly-wed Starozhuks are also fans of extreme sports — they both love sky­div­ing and even wanted to have a wed­ding cer­e­mony in a plane — and jump out to­gether af­ter ex­chang­ing vows. How­ever, the plan didn’t suit the registry of­fice work­ers, they said.

In­stead, af­ter their wed­ding the Starozhuks plan to go on hon­ey­moon to the Bilosarayska Kosa beach re­sort, which is on a spit of land stretching out into the Azov Sea, south of Mar­i­upol. They said they would re­turn to their home­town af­ter the trip, and don’t plan to move any­where else.

“Of course, we love our city and want to keep liv­ing here. It’s our dear home,” they said.

Peo­ple re­lax in the salt lakes that sur­round Slo­vian­sky Kurort (Slo­viansk Re­sort) Park in the north­east part of Slo­viansk, a Donetsk Oblast city of 115,000 peo­ple that was oc­cu­pied by Rus­sian-backed sep­a­ratists for four months in 2014 and lib­er­ated by...

(Volodymyr Petrov)

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