UT journalists visited towns and villages located in the conflict zone in Donetsk region
The gray zone. Towns and villages located on the contact line in the war-torn Donetsk region. Life here stands still, only disturbed by the shooting and shelling.
The contact line divides this local village, called Hranitne. Years of war have left their impact on the place. Only several hundred residents out of 4,000 decided to stay here . These people had to endure a lot of misery during the war, deprived of basic rights and services.
Hranitne Village Resident: "We never left this place, not even when the war started. We're all here, my daughter, husband, all our relatives. We are scared, but what can we do? We have nowhere to go. Nobody needs us. This is our home."
For a year and a half these people didn't have electricity. They had to use candles and gas cylinders to cook food to survive. It may seem that life took a turn for the better, when the shaky ceasefire deal was reached. The stores now have food, local school and kindergarten are open, people can get pensions at a post office. But the war never stops. The fighting continues, and nowadays it occurs mostly at nights.
Leonid Khaytulov, Hranitne village head: "Approximately 600 houses were hit, 12 of them destroyed completely. The last attack was several days ago. Our village is isolated, we have no public transport, no connection to the outside world. If someone wants to leave, they have to use their own cars."
The way to Hranitne is extremely dangerous. Minefields and roadblocks separate it from the rest of the region. Ukrainian soldiers check on every vehicle that leaves or enters the village. They close the checkpoint, when the battles flare up. The Russian-backed separatist forces mostly use mortars and sniper rifles nowadays. One of their projectiles still lies here unexploded as a permanent reminder of what to expect.
The Russian-backed separatist forces are located right there, approximately three kilometers away from us. They are constantly monitoring these positions, and Ukrainian soldiers say, it's dangerous to even stand still, because enemy shelling can come anytime.
Destructions and violence now mark every village and town located on the front line. A month ago artillery fire almost destroyed this building in Krasnogorivka, twenty kilometers west of Donetsk. The gaping hole is where the projectile hit. Dozens of people lost their homes in one moment.
When the shell smashed the building, Alla was in the basement. The woman had been living there for almost two years. The conditions here are hardly healthy, the moisture and filth leave an unpleasant scent. But Alla says, it's better to be safe than sorry. She has turned this dark place into her home.
Alla, Krasnohorovka town resident: "We only had one silent night in the last month, couple of weeks ago 13 projectiles hit our house, I counted them myself. I've lived through two winters here by now. Why would I want to be up there? There are no windows in my apartment, no heating. I don't want to rush down here every time they start to shoot, I'd rather stay here as long as I could."
The town of Mariinka near the separatist capital Donetsk. Local resident Semion has lived here for 33 years. His house was hit several times during the war. One day a mortar projectile wounded him and his wife. The man kept this piece as a souvenir.
"Can you feel it? This is one of the projectile shards under my skin".
When Ukrainian soldiers return fire, Maryinka plunges into chaos. During these moments it's difficult to understand, who shoots and from where. Semion is convinced, though, some of the destructions were caused by the government forces.
Semion, Mariinka town resident: "Our Ukrainian soldiers hit this roof. The fire came from that alley. I don't know, maybe they shoved the shell into the mortar upside down or something. A soldier came to me after that, said "I'm sorry, it just happened". And I told him: "I don't have any Russians under my roof, why did you shoot there?"
The center of Mariinka is almost devastated after the years of the fierce fighting. Some destroyed buildings now serve as minefields.
Destroyed buildings in Maryinka (UNIAN Photo)
This is one of the most heavily shelled buildings in Maryinka. A local police department used to be located here. And when the war came, it claimed lives of the officers who served in this town. Later a monument was installed to honour their memory.
What Ukraine cannot or will not restore, the locals repair themselves. The United Nations and other international organizations provide humanitarian aid, tools and construction materials. A United Nations Refugee Agency office operates here, addressing people's needs.
Oksana Sidorenko-Markovich, UNHCR humanitarian office worker: We address all kinds of requests, people ask for help with legal matters, with documents, transportation of their property from the uncontrolled territories, destructions, gas supplies, medicine, medical help and so on.
The agency, though, can't provide the local residents with what they need most - and that is peace. After two years of combat the color of flags doesn't matter anymore. The people only want to be rid of the horrors the war has brought to their doors.