Tuesday, June 18, 2019
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The war over water

Access to drinking water is one of the timeless pain of Donbass. Without the war being for much, some remote corners have never had running water. In Bakhmutka, a village cut in half by the front line, only three two-storey buildings were connected to the water network, while each individual house had its own well. But from the first fighting, the pipes were damaged, and in 2016 the wells dried up after several arid summers. Liudmila Koneva moves forward, sinking into a black mud that covers everything here, bypasses the ducks wading between toys, and raises the lid of a concrete cylinder coming out of the ground. At the bottom, twenty meters, gleams an opaque puddle. "I can not even give this molasses to my cows," she sighs. She lost her job at the bread factory, now in separatist territory. The 30-year-old mother, who makes ten more, feeds, two or three, two children and an unemployed husband with a scanty kitchen garden, a few animals, a pension of 3000 hryvnias (less than 100 euros) , and some humanitarian aid. Lioudmila has nothing to replace the living room windows that shattered on a day of shelling. She has not clogged the ball track that has been lodged in the wall above the children's bed. By being washed by hand in bad water, all clothes are soiled. In the kitchen there is no sink, just a bunch of old basins. A small child's bathtub sits in the entrance. "We all wash in there," smiles Lioudmila, indignant and resigned at once, like everyone here.

Lioudmila Koneva supports her family with a scanty kitchen garden and a few animals.

Bakhmutka, like several remote villages along the front, survives only thanks to the intervention of People in Need (PIN), a Czech NGO, which delivers five tons of drinking water a week, to be shared between 150 households. "It's not enough, we need two more times. People are spying, counting who takes what, it pleases us ", regrets Lioudmila. On the crossroads in front of his house, a small wooden cabin houses a drilling offered in 2016 by a Catholic mission. "We had clear water for a year. But they have badly dug, and for two years, we have only brown water. If you let it sit for a long time, you can use it to the limit for laundry, "Anatoly Teliukov, a neighbor grumbles, filling his bucket with a brownish liquid. The situation is desperate because nobody will come to build a pipeline here. In Chassiv Yar, the director of Voda Donbassa was categorical: "It does not make sense to incur huge costs to get the water. These villages will eventually empty anyway. "Bakhmutka, 70% retired, is no longer connected to the nearest town, Bakhmut, only by a bus twice a week …

At the edge of Toretsk, following the canal to the south, the last shell fell three days ago, says Yuri Nikulin, the director of the local subsidiary of the water company. It shows a crater in the bitumen, near an abandoned coal mine. Only three collieries out of seven turn in this mining town of 30,000 inhabitants. "Ukraine stops here. Behind this slag heap is Horlivka and the RPD. "Nikulin is responsible for 471 km of pipes, part of which is in the" gray zone ", the no-man's land between the Ukrainian and separatist positions to which nobody has access because of the constant exchange of fire. "It has become impossible to maintain infrastructure," he complains. The pipeline has been destroyed about fifteen times since the beginning of the war. "This is where the pipeline escapes into rebel territory. In the center of the city called Dzerzhinsk in 2014 rises the building of the city council, gaping windows, calcined entrails, mournful witness of the fighting between separatists and Ukrainian forces. In the neighboring square stands an empty pedestal. A Lenin sat here before being swept away by the wave of "decommunization" that had swelled with the beginning of the Maidan – rejecting the Soviet heritage as a symbol of Russian rule – and ended with a veritable "Leninopad" (Lenin Falls) and changes in the names of streets and cities across the country.

Yuri Nikulin, the director of the Voda Donbassa branch in Toretsk.

After having lost it, we find the channel back on the Ukrainian side towards Avdiivka to merge almost with the front line up to Mariinka, one of the four crossing points of the border. Between the two, a secondary pipeline forks to Karlovka and its filter station. The village continues to welcome visitors with a checkpoint and decapitated buildings. During the clashes, some 200 people had taken refuge in this resort of Voda Donbassa, one of the few hard-core sites with basements in this rural area, which then served as a base for Ukrainian fighters. In the midst of the stocky buildings of colorless brick, between the flower beds, one can still see the gaping mouth of a shelter against the bombs. "Nineteen of the 80 employees provided station operation during the two weeks of the fighting. We evacuated them when the canal stopped, "says Vitaly Makovsky, the local director, who had to improvise as a rescue chief. To emancipate itself from the central network, Voda Donbassa, with international assistance, rehabilitated last year a pumping station on the reservoir of Karlovka, stopped since 1978. Makovsky shows the facilities – between fifties pumps and PIN's state-of-the-art pools, which he describes with affection as if he roamed his family estate. But he does not want his children to grow up here, where "everything is gray and desolate".



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