Mark in Eastern-Ukraine

The mercanery named Mark (34) traveled from his three children in Ireland to fight for the Russian-backed rebels. The story was published in Dagbladet. Video in Norwegian:

Tekst av: Kyrre Lien
DEBALTSEVO, ØST-UKRAINA (Dagbladet): Det er en iskald vinterdag i Donetsk, hovedstaden for de russiskstøttede opprørerne i Øst-Ukraina. En gjeng soldater hutrer i kulden. Røyker og laster våpen opp på en utrangert lastebil. De skal til frontlinjen i dag.
– Jeg er sikker på at krigen vil bryte ut for fullt igjen, sier Mark.
Sigaretten henger i munnviken.

De trykker seg sammen på lasteplanet, alle de fjorten soldatene. Noen fra Ukraina, andre fra Russland og Irland. Med seg har de våpen og ammunisjon, noen sekker poteter og en pappeske full av tørt brød.

«På dagtid er det stort sett rolig her, men om natten kriger vi. Kampene er ikke like kraftige som de var tidligere i år, men alle her tror den vil eskalere igjen.» Mark (34), irsk leiesoldat

I tre timer humper lastebilen uten støtdempere bortover på nedslitte veier. Forbi bombede landsbyer, skjeletter av tanks og forlatte landbruksområder. Mark har trukket lua godt nedenfor øra og et skjerf dekker halve ansiktet. To intense øyne titter ut.

Leiesoldaten Mark (34) reiste fra hjemmet og barna sine i Irland for å krige i Øst-Ukraina. - Alle vennene mine i Irland syns det er bra at jeg er her og kriger. Foto: Kyrre Lien

Leiesoldaten Mark (34) reiste fra hjemmet og barna sine i Irland for å krige i Øst-Ukraina. – Alle vennene mine i Irland syns det er bra at jeg er her og kriger.
Foto: Kyrre Lien

Frossen konflikt
Krigen i har vart i over halvannet år nå. De offisielle dødstallene fra FN har nettopp passert 9000 mennesker. Trolig er de reelle langt høyere, da mange dødsfall blant soldatene ikke rapporteres inn. Halvannen millioner mennesker er drevet på flukt fra området i Europa.
– Ukrainerne er der borte, sier han og peker på noen trær og et lite hus.

Fem hundre meter unna oss ligger ukrainerne i sine skyttergraver. Det er bare et frossent jorde og et lite søkk i landskapet som skiller oss fra dem. Dem Mark kaller fascister.

– På dagtid er det stort sett rolig her, men om natten kriger vi. Kampene er ikke like kraftige som de var tidligere i år, men alle her tror den vil eskalere igjen, forteller Mark.

Før Mark valgte å reise til Øst-Ukraina, hadde han tidligere tjenestegjort i Irak. Nå speider han over sandsekkene fra posisjonen deres utenfor Debaltseve, en by som ble verdenskjent da kampene raste der tidligere i januar. Over fem hundre sivile ble drept i bombardementet, før russiskstøttede styrker fikk kontrollen over byen.

Beskyttet av en bakketopp, ligger posisjonen deres. Én kilometer unna ligger den Ukrainske hæren i sine skyttergraver.

Beskyttet av en bakketopp, ligger posisjonen deres. Én kilometer unna ligger den Ukrainske hæren i sine skyttergraver.

Russiske stridsvogner i Ukraina
– På hvilken måte er Russland involvert i krigen?
– De er ikke involvert, sier Mark kort.
Han ser ut i luften noen sekunder.
– Eller, jo litt. De gir oss litt klær og medisiner, samt nødhjelp til de sivile. Vi får ingen våpen eller stridsvogner.

NATO sier på sin side at Russland støtter opprørerne med våpen, trening og styrker. Mange av de vi møter i Øst-Ukraina er russere, men de sier de er der frivillig som leiesoldater. Men det faktum at OSSE, Organisasjonen for sikkerhet og samarbeid i Europa, har observert moderne russiske stridskjøretøy, er vanskeligere å bortforklare. Nestleder for OSSEs observatørkorps i Ukraina, Alexander Hug, ser mørkt på de siste ukers utvikling.

Ødelagt infrastruktur
– Situasjonen forverres og våpenhvilen nå er veldig skjør. Vi har observert at begge sider har flyttet deres posisjoner og tyngre våpen nærmere mot frontlinjen, som et klart brudd på den nåværende våpenhvilen. Kampene har eskalert de siste ukene, sammenlignet med før. For noen dager siden ble en sivil kvinne drept i kampene.
Hug forteller om en uforutsigbar situasjon for sivilbefolkningen.
– Nå som kampene intensiveres, påvirker det den humanitære enda mer situasjonen. De som bor nær frontlinjen kan oppleve at de ikke har vann, strøm eller gass. Infrastrukturen er blitt ødelagt. Mange sliter også med å få råd til mat. Og nå som vinteren kommer, er dette spesielt alvorlig, forteller han.

Skal gifte seg
– Jeg så videoer på Youtube av at mennesker ble drept her borte. Det var da jeg bestemte meg for at jeg ønsket å krige her. Jeg hadde nettopp blitt skilt fra kona og hadde ikke noe annet å gjøre. Så jeg tok noen telefoner, fløy til Russland og dukket opp her. Det er ett år siden nå, forteller Mark.

«Situasjonen forverres og våpenhvilen nå er veldig skjør. Vi har observert at begge sider har flyttet deres posisjoner og tyngre våpen nærmere mot frontlinjen.»Alexander Hug, nestleder for OSSEs observatørkorps i Ukraina

Han viser frem et bilde av datteren sin på mobilen. Hun er kledd i rosa.
– Nå har jeg fått meg en kjæreste her borte og jeg venter barn med henne. Vi planlegger å gifte oss. Nå er jeg her for å beskytte dem. Jeg håper bare at det skal bli fred, forteller leiesoldaten.

Separatist-suppe
– Pass på hvor du går, det kan være miner her, forteller en navnløs soldat fra Russland.
En liten bekk sildrer igjennom basen deres, som består av telt og utgravde bunkere.
– Vi har laget suppe i dag. Separatist-suppe, gliser russeren. Bålet speiler seg i gulltennene hans.

En russer med skaut bryter inn fra sidelinja.

– Jeg har faktisk vært i Oslo en gang. For tre år siden, da jeg besøkte moren min. Hun er gift med en viking der borte. Jeg synes Oslo er en veldig ren og pen by. Der likte jeg meg godt, men nå har jeg hørt at det er så mange somaliere der. Så nå ønsker jeg meg ikke tilbake.
Et strømaggregat summer i bakgrunnen, bare avbrutt av sporadisk skyting, høyrøstet latter og bombing.
Krigen er blitt hverdag.

 

Om natten bombes det, men kampene er langt roligere nå enn de har vært tidligere. Mange soldater kjeder seg på frontlinjen og ønsker at krigen skal eskalere igjen.

Om natten bombes det, men kampene er langt roligere nå enn de har vært tidligere. Mange soldater kjeder seg på frontlinjen og ønsker at krigen skal eskalere igjen.

 


After the fall

“The first toast is for peace,” Vladimir, 28, proclaims as he fills four glasses with homemade vodka.

He is sitting with his friends on the airline seats of MH17. These green, pink and red seats were once attached to the Boeing 777 airliner of Malaysia Airlines headed from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. But on 17 July 2014, shortly after 5 p.m. local time, the plane with 298 passengers was shot down over the small village of Grabove.

Seven months have past after Malaysia Airlines MH17 was shot down in Grabovo in Eastern-Ukraine. Together with journalist Per Christian Selmer Andersen, we went back to the village close to the frontline to find out how the situation is there now. We found young men drinking vodka in the airline seats, children who can’t sleep at night and that only 10 percent of the adults are working. This feature have been published in Politiken, Svenska Dagbladet and Bergens Tidende, among others.

 

"I am afraid of snipers", Artëm says. He moves rapidly, with a waddling move. In the background we hear shooting and shelling, despite the truce in December.

“I am afraid of snipers”, Artëm says. He moves rapidly, with a waddling move. In the background we hear shooting and shelling, despite the truce in December.

On this field, MH17 was downed the 17th of July 2014. Six months later, debris is still to be found on the ground.

On this field, MH17 was downed the 17th of July 2014. Six months later, debris is still to be found on the ground.

The Dutch Safety Board collected the most vital parts of the airplane in the beginning of December. Still there are debris and personal belongings left on the ground. Sergey and Vladimir are two of the local men who guards the plane in a hangar in Grabove. The Dutch authorities does not know when they will be able to get it all back to The Netherlands.

The Dutch Safety Board collected the most vital parts of the airplane in the beginning of December. Still there are debris and personal belongings left on the ground. Sergey and Vladimir are two of the local men who guards the plane in a hangar in Grabove. The Dutch authorities does not know when they will be able to get it all back to The Netherlands.

Vladimir, Artëm and Aleksander guards the wreck every night. They watch movies, drink beers and makes themselves comfortable on the passenger seats from MH17.

Vladimir, Artëm and Aleksander guards the wreck every night. They watch movies, drink beers and makes themselves comfortable on the passenger seats from MH17.

The mayor of Grabove, Vladimir Bereshnoy, collects the valuables from the passengers of MH17.

The mayor of Grabove, Vladimir Bereshnoy, collects the valuables from the passengers of MH17.

Danila plays with his planes at home with grandfather Aleksander Kovalenko.

Danila plays with his planes at home with grandfather Aleksander Kovalenko.

Danila and his mother Tatiana plays at the grandparents house. Her husband is living with his parents in a village closer to Donetsk. War teared them apart.

Danila and his mother Tatiana plays at the grandparents house. Her husband is living with his parents in a village closer to Donetsk. War teared them apart.

The Kovalenkos and Vladimir goes out to look for the shelling. It is about 30 kilometres away, they reckon.

The Kovalenkos and Vladimir goes out to look for the shelling. It is about 30 kilometres away, they reckon.

Danila at his home in Grabovo.

Danila at his home in Grabovo.

Two boys play on an abandoned playground in Grabove. After the war, even the only cafeteria has closed in the village.

Two boys play on an abandoned playground in Grabove. After the war, even the only cafeteria has closed in the village.

Two women pass the government building of Shakhtarsk, which was put on fire last spring.

Two women pass the government building of Shakhtarsk, which was put on fire last spring.

Before the war, many of the men worked in the mines. Now they are closed or illegally drifted by the rebels. Nine of ten in Grabove is left without work. Artëm make times go by guarding the wreck.

Before the war, many of the men worked in the mines. Now they are closed or illegally drifted by the rebels. Nine of ten in Grabove is left without work. Artëm make times go by guarding the wreck.

Big areas of Donetsk city is completely shattered by shelling and abandoned by civilians.

Big areas of Donetsk city is completely shattered by shelling and abandoned by civilians.

Pro-Russian rebels in a bunker at the front. 6000 people have been killed in the conflic.

Pro-Russian rebels in a bunker at the front. 6000 people have been killed in the conflic.

A pro-Russian rebel who wants to show his face. Others are afraid of being recognized as their family is still living on Ukrainian territory.

A pro-Russian rebel who wants to show his face. Others are afraid of being recognized as their family is still living on Ukrainian territory.

A pro-Russian rebel relax in a bunkers close to the airport in Donetsk. According to the rebels, 4000-5000 of their army consists of Russians. The Ukraine Authorities claims the number of Russians are the double.

A pro-Russian rebel relax in a bunkers close to the airport in Donetsk. According to the rebels, 4000-5000 of their army consists of Russians. The Ukraine Authorities claims the number of Russians are the double.

We meet "Stan" at Ramada Hotel in Donetsk city, where he is chatting with some Chechen friends. As the truce was going on, he went out in the city to hang out with friends - still armed and in uniform.

We meet “Stan” at Ramada Hotel in Donetsk city, where he is chatting with some Chechen friends. As the truce was going on, he went out in the city to hang out with friends – still armed and in uniform.

Winter in Donetsk. The locals thought it would give a break to the fighting, as the cold might scare the soldiers. However, the events in January showed this not to be true.

Winter in Donetsk. The locals thought it would give a break to the fighting, as the cold might scare the soldiers. However, the events in January showed this not to be true.

 

I was also there right after the crash in July. Here is that report. 


The widows of Maidan

More than 100 people died in the violence on Kiev’s central Independence Square, known as the Maidan, a year ago.
Together with journalist Per Christian we met with the widows who lost their husbands who fought for independence.
The story was published in DN Lørdag.

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Ukraine war turns Donetsk into ghost town

The war raging in Eastern-Ukraine has turned Donetsk into a ghost town. It once was one of the biggest cities in the region with over one million residents. Now, halv of the population has fled, leaving the streets and shops empty. Story in Aftenposten.

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2014 in pictures

It has been an intense year. From fighting in Donetsk, to a mining accident in Turkey, to flooding in Norway and to destruction in Gaza.
And a lot of nice things, as well.
Here are some of the pictures from 2014.
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Local miners search for bodies and debris after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine in July, killing 298 people. In the days that followed the locals where assigned to locate the bodies while the pro-russian separatists guarded the site.

Local miners search for bodies and debris after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine in July, killing 298 people. In the days that followed the locals where assigned to locate the bodies while the pro-russian separatists guarded the site.

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A woman lies on the ground, killed by shelling in a residencial neighborhood in Donetsk on July 22th 2014. The summer in Donetsk turned violent after fighting between pro-russian separatists and the Ukrainian military increased. Over one million people has fled after the war in Eastern-Ukraine broke out, leaving over four thousand people killed.

A woman lies on the ground, killed by shelling in a residencial neighborhood in Donetsk on July 22th 2014. The summer in Donetsk turned violent after fighting between pro-russian separatists and the Ukrainian military increased. Over one million people has fled after the war in Eastern-Ukraine broke out, leaving over four thousand people killed.

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During the war in Gaza, over 100.000 homes was destroyed or damaged and 2000 people where killed. Now, the families have moved back to their homes - trying to find back to normality in a neighborhood in ruins.
Ziad Abu Assar boils coffee with his children on a fire in the ruins of what was once a garage. His home is completely destroyed, so he lives in an apartment with his family in Gaza City.

During the war in Gaza, over 100.000 homes was destroyed or damaged and 2000 people where killed. Now, the families have moved back to their homes – trying to find back to normality in a neighborhood in ruins.
Ziad Abu Assar boils coffee with his children on a fire in the ruins of what was once a garage. His home is completely destroyed, so he lives in an apartment with his family in Gaza City.

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When she heard the explosions, Imen ran over to her big brother Mahmoud. She woke him up, and screamed that they had to run away. The pigeons in the garden fled and the chickens were killed by smoke and dust, but the whole family survived. They since returned to their destroyed home and found many undetonated grenades lying around. They scraped out the explosives and used them as decoration.

When she heard the explosions, Imen ran over to her big brother Mahmoud. She woke him up, and screamed that they had to run away. The pigeons in the garden fled and the chickens were killed by smoke and dust, but the whole family survived. They since returned to their destroyed home and found many undetonated grenades lying around. They scraped out the explosives and used them as decoration.

When the night comes, Jamal prays on the roof of his bombed house in Gaza. His house in Shejaiya was one of 100.000 houses which was damaged or destroyed during the war this summer.

When the night comes, Jamal prays on the roof of his bombed house in Gaza.
His house in Shejaiya was one of 100.000 houses which was damaged or destroyed during the war this summer.

When the children in the Harara-family returned to their bombed house, they found undetonated shells. They scraped out the explosives and used them as flower pots. Now, the UN is struggles to reach out to the population in Gaza about how unexploded shells from the war should be handled.

When the children in the Harara-family returned to their bombed house, they found undetonated shells. They scraped out the explosives and used them as flower pots. Now, the UN is struggles to reach out to the population in Gaza about how unexploded shells from the war should be handled.

Jørn Heggbrenna, age 45, helps his neighbour with salvaging furniture from a basement after a severe flooding in Trysil, Norway. Several homes where damaged, and many had the evacuate when a large area in Trysil was flooded.

Jørn Heggbrenna, age 45, helps his neighbour with salvaging furniture from a basement after a severe flooding in Trysil, Norway. Several homes where damaged, and many had the evacuate when a large area in Trysil was flooded.

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