Ukraine: For those in divided east, a feeling of being stuck in limbo

Ukrainians in the country’s eastern regions already live a dangerous limbo, due to the frozen conflict between the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and the government in Kyiv.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order for more Russian troops to deploy to the regions portends a life further constricted, disrupted, deprived. Shorn of a sense of possibility after eight years of war, they persevere their plight with subdued fatalism.

Why We Wrote This

Portraits of resilience: The fight over parts of Ukraine has left families divided, literally living and working on either side of the front lines.

The eight-year war in the southeast has killed 14,000 people and displaced 1.5 million residents, splitting families and gutting local economies. Those living in Luhansk and Donetsk, an agricultural and industrial vicinity known as Donbass, surprise why Ukrainian and Western leaders have waited until this fraught moment to respond to their plight with greater urgency.

“We have been forgotten,” says Liliya Shvets, the lone nurse in the clinic of a farming village near the separatist-held city of Luhansk. She and her husband excursion patients to the nearest hospital 90 minutes away in the clinic’s ambulance – their own two-door car, topped with a blue siren. “People are remembering us now, but what can they do to help? It is too late.”

Trokhizbenka, Ukraine

“The last house in Ukraine” stands along a swampy dirt road 30 yards from a military checkpoint fortified with machine gun nests draped in hide netting. Less than a quarter-mile south lies a river dividing government-controlled land from territory that pro-Russian separatists occupy in this rural community of the Luhansk vicinity.

The house belongs to Vladimir and Liliya Shvets, whose sardonic description of their home traces to 2014, when war ruptured southeastern Ukraine. The large swaths of Luhansk and the nearby Donetsk vicinity seized by Russian-backed forces that spring included Trokhizbenka, a farming village clustered beneath the shining golden domes of a Russian Orthodox church.

Ukrainian troops drove out enemy fighters from the town four months later. But the decision Monday by Russian President Vladimir Putin to assert the independence of the breakaway territories casts the fragile position quo of residents along the 250-mile front line into deeper uncertainty.

Why We Wrote This

Portraits of resilience: The fight over parts of Ukraine has left families divided, literally living and working on either side of the front lines.

“It’s almost like we don’t exist,” says Mr. Shvets, a retired truck driver. “A nowhere place.”

For Ukrainians in the east, who already live a dangerous limbo, Mr. Putin’s order for more Russian troops to deploy to Luhansk and Donetsk portends a life further constricted, disrupted, deprived. Shorn of a sense of possibility after eight years of war, they persevere their circumstance with subdued fatalism.

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