Donetsk — a relatively affluent city with riverside parks and a sparkling soccer stadium — seemed to proceed with normal life as Oleg drove past glass-walled office buildings. “It looks like there is no war. Everything is quiet — peaceful,” he said. “And we will see how that will change now.”
He pulled up to the last rebel checkpoint before the road to the airport became a no-man’s-land. Shirtless men in dusty jeans worked feverishly in the fading sunlight, digging and stacking sandbags, with an eye to the approaching night. Then the sedan passed into the silence of the edge of war; the Ukrainian army was hidden in the distance somewhere. Oleg stopped the car in front of a flatbed truck. Bullet holes pocked the windshield; shoes and clothing scraps were scattered around. The back was caked in blood. Some 30 rebels had died there, Oleg said, when the truck was ambushed en route to the airport by a Ukrainian RPG team. The only sound on the deserted highway came from a billboard flapping in the wind overhead. “This cannot go without punishment,” Oleg said.
A silver van pulled up suddenly, and a man in a black cap pointed a submachine gun from the driver’s side window. “Who are you?” he shouted. A young couple, holding hands, approached on the sidewalk about 100 yards away, taking slow and deliberate steps toward an apartment building set back in the trees. Bursts of gunfire echoed nearby. Then the sedan was back onto Donetsk’s busy streets. “And now there is no war. So it’s a feature of civil war,” Oleg said, meaning that sometimes people don’t recognize it until it’s right upon them. “Most people still don’t understand that this is war. But when there will be more victims and more death, they will stand up.”