Dzherelo (‘The source’) refugee camp
The OSCE is now estimating that due to the escalation of violence in the east of Ukraine, some 500 thousand have been forced to abandon their homes. They found a safe haven thanks to the goodwill and assistance of numerous civil, social and volunteer organisations, as well as private individuals.
The story of the Dzherelo displaced and refugee camp near Kyiv is as typical as it gets. As any other awe-inspiring and impressive civil project in Ukraine, it was conceived, created and has operated without any formal state assistance.
Kostya, an active volunteer helping the soldiers at the front, once came back from one of his missions with some refugees – and realized he had nowhere to take them. He started looking around, word reached him of the Dzherelo sanatorium, illegally privatised by Yanukovych’s folk. During the times of the Maydan it used to be inhabited by the titushki, then stood empty ever since the former president fled. Assisted by some other volunteers, Kostya took the building over, hoping they would manage to put it in order; at the same time they started to spread the news of the possibility of the displaced settling there. As early as on their very first day, 48 families arrived. Scores came the next day. It turned out the issue of resettling the Donbass refugees was simply too grave to wait any longer. At this moment, there are some 250 people living in the sanatorium, mostly women and children, but also elderly persons. There are only a dozen men, all of them fathers of the families accepted. The majority is made up of children – and it is them that I should like to write about.
In the camp, there are children from Donetsk, Gorlovka and other towns where armed clashes are taking place. They came to me on their own initiative, started asking immediately: why was I wearing military trousers? Would I make some fried kartoshka (potatoes) for them? But then they did it all themselves – from peeling the potatoes, to washing the dishes afterwards. They told me their stories over a bowl of steaming chips.
The stories differ from those told by their parents – devoid of any dates and chronology of events. What I learned were the names of their hamsters they had to leave in Donetsk; useful advice, such as to sleep with my boots on, as then it’s quicker to get down to the basement if the shelling starts at nighttime; of their longing for their schools and friends. And about “our” soldiers, the Ukrainians – there was a small detachment of volunteers stationed temporarily at the sanatorium. As opposed to the parents, who occasionally made unconscious slips of the tongue, saying “our guys” when speaking of the separatists – the children are fervently pro-Ukrainian. I had even been thinking of whether there’s somebody laying the educational patriotic grounds in the facility, but Kostya met my question with a burst of laughter: “There’s two things you’re forbidden to do here: drink alcohol and talk politics. The kids simply feel the truth in their guts”. There might be something to it; in a child’s perception, the Donetsk People’s Republic is explosions, running barefoot across the only bridge not yet blown up, fear. They are safe at the sanatorium, taken care of; the soldiers tell them jokes, carry them around in their arms. No wonder virtually every single one of them has a drawing over their bed: conveying their best wishes for the soldiers fighting in the east.