Mykola's diary: Chronicling the battle for Donbas

·3-min read
Mykola has a sweeping view beyond the Donets River and the frontline where Russian troops have been trying to break through (AFP/Yasuyoshi CHIBA) (Yasuyoshi CHIBA)

Scouring the frontlines with binoculars from his home in Lysychansk, Mykola keeps track of the conflict in his region of eastern Ukraine in what he calls his "little war diary".

In the top right-hand corner of every page is the date and below is the day's entry, always starting with the words: "We're holding on!"

The 67-year-old said he keeps the diary "for historical record", adding that he would have liked his mother to have done it too during World War II while living in the same house.

"I write down what happened and at what time. I am very detailed, and I only tell the truth. Today the shelling stopped at 8:20 am and I wrote it down. See?"

His entry for the previous day: "Smerch (rocket) fire on Severodonetsk", "Shelling of the market, the Yermolovskaya bakery is destroyed" and "Calm returns at 11:00 pm".

Mykola spends hours at an observation point he's set up on the top floor of his home with a sheepskin on the windowsill to protect his elbows and a pair of binoculars that lets him observe combat between Russian and Ukrainian forces.

From his window, he has a sweeping view over the entire plain beyond the Donets River and the frontline where Russian troops have been trying to break through for the past two weeks.

When the weather is nice and the shells are not falling, the pensioner climbs up on the roof where he has built an observation platform with planks of wood next to a little Ukrainian flag.

While some in his hometown are not opposed to control by Russian forces, Mykola clearly supports the Ukrainian side and is adamant about victory even though the frontline is getting closer every day.

- 'Stay to the end' -

The former electromechanical engineer leafs through his dairy. Fifty-eight pages are filled in and a hundred or so remain blank.

He lives alone in his three-storey family home, decorated in 1950s Soviet style and surrounded by memories of happier times.

There are albums with photos of family hunting expeditions, records of folk music, a stamp collection and the title deeds for land given to his great grandparents under Tsarist Russia.

In the "summer kitchen" adjacent to the house, he boils some water to make tea.

"Black, green or with berries?" he asks, saying he has enough supplies for "any war".

In his office, next to maps of the Donbas region, a radio broadcasts instructions on what to do if Russian forces break through.

"If the Russians arrive, you have to take up arms. Resist!" the presenter says. "If you don't, this is what is going to happen -- the men will be killed, the women raped and the rest deported to Russia."

Asked what he would do, Mykola, a former hunter, says: "I will stay to the end".

If Lysychansk were to fall into Russian hands, he says he would join the resistance.

But he lacks the technological know-how for any modern-day partisan organisation.

"They told me to join some Signal or Telegram groups but I don't know how all that works," he says, before returning to his binoculars and his diary.


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