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February, 22

"They replaced the old curbs and curbstones". Luhansk journal

01/24/2024 02:24:00 pm
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We are swiftly moving towards russia. However, we are already russia. Like adopted children in a new family, we, taken in without asking, timidly adapt to its rules. Adoptive parents compensate the absence of our familiar family with new clothes and bright toys. And we already forget who we are and where we come from. Life around me is changing so rapidly that there is no time to ponder over such impractical questions. After 8 years of continuous decline, the city is changing rapidly: houses are being built, roads are being paved, conifers are being planted, children's playgrounds and skateboard ramps are being installed. Neither long weekends nor weather catastrophes hinder this mechanism.

We are like spectators in a theatrical performance, where something unimaginable is happening a meter away from us, and we are either watching it all or participating in it. The pace is so swift that it's impossible to grasp the scale of everything: parks, fountains, schools, sports grounds... You are still in the same, familiar from childhood Luhansk, and at the same time - as if in a time machine, where imagining the future is practically impossible.

About five years ago, I met a classmate and her husband at the circus. Since 2014, they had been living in Kyiv and occasionally visited her parents in Luhansk. So, when asked about Luhansk, her husband unexpectedly replied: "Your curbs are bad. All broken and displaced". At that time, it seemed like nonsense. There were so many problems around that I only noticed those curbs after his words. But now, everything is fine with the curbs! That's the first thing moscow builders did when they came to Luhansk: they replaced the old broken curbs and curbstones. After dismantling them, they put new ones, and now there are no more displaced curbs. And that five-year-old conversation often comes to mind when I see new roads and new curbs.

It seems like our city is coming to life and developing, but suddenly you notice that it's as if it's not ours anymore. It's not just the facade that changes, but also the spirit. The same, yet different. And you have to get used to it. New rules, bureaucracy, a cumbersome document workflow system. Because, you see, it used to be simple: you scratch my back, and I scratch yours. Everyone knew each other, and business, problem-solving, careers, and destinies were built on this foundation. Our friends from Kyiv (not so far away, it seems) often didn't understand much from our explanations: decided it over the phone, called, asked for a favor... Now, the "homeliness" of Luhansk life is abruptly replaced by soulless technology. The system tightens the screws: cameras in schools, non-russian security, access control systems in higher education institutions, and promises to monitor working hours in budgetary organizations. It’s something new, amazing, and foreign. Whom do the Azerbaijanis and Kalmyks, who came here, guard our children in schools from? But this has already become routine.

A lot has changed in the "patriotic education" of schoolchildren. Children are involved in the process as participants, making them empathize rather than just observe. This includes sending "letters to soldiers" and "packages for the front", visiting moscow and participation in all-russian programs and competitions. Through children, their parents are also involved. You feel like a part of a vast country. Like an orphan who is unexpectedly discovering their large extended family.

Although not everyone in the "republic" had "their window to the world opened" only after joining russia. Some were well-off here, "sitting on two chairs" as the proverb goes, even before that.

A friend of mine and her husband have businesses here. He is in the food industry, and she owns a chain of hair salons. And they live wonderfully here! From the outside, it might seem like we're behind an iron curtain, but in reality, they travel all over russia, staying in the best hotels. The Ukrainian biometric passport gives them the right to travel to Ukraine and wherever else they want. Essentially, they only earn their living here. Yes, an average person might not manage this, but we're talking about a family that has diligently avoided political discussions for the past 10 years, giving them the right to live, travel, and freely communicate with friends on both sides of the front line.

And here's a bright example of the opposite side. Our neighbors were not at all happy about the "republic" creation. Too many changes, too many losses, and with age, it became very difficult to accept the alterations. They didn't criticize, but when the conversation turned that way, they prophesied, "I warned you back in 2014 when you were going to protests!" Both were detained in Novoaidar as spotters in January 2023, after the hospital explosion. It's unclear what they could have been doing so far from home that day. Their parents' home was under ambush for a long time. Their daughter searched for them, but she hasn't received any answers about her mother and stepfather's fate. It's been a year without any news. And this, too, is about changes. In no way, living here, can you "slander" the russian army and state. And if earlier daredevils would make moves against the "republic", now there's a different form of punishment, and it's much scarier...

Olha Kucher, Luhansk, for OstroV