One day at the beginning of 2016, Ukrainians started shelling the school when the children were inside. The children were evacuated immediately: they were led to a window and into a bus, and then on this road, which was at that time safe. No children were injured; they were protected by the People's Militia while being evacuated.
We made positions to protect the town from Ukrainians trying to push forward. After we made our defense line, we didn't move a meter forward: we do everything according to the (Minsk) agreements. But the Ukrainians pushed forward through the Grey Zone, which is a military line.
Now in some areas, the distance between the front positions is 300 meters, and in some areas, the distance is just 120 meters.
In May 2018, they used tanks to fire direct hits at the school, destroying the gym area of the school. It was their attempt to break the front line and enter the town, but they weren't able to.
We're still holding our position, not a meter forward or back. Ukrainians still try to wage an offensive forward, but they aren't able to do so. The Ukrainian government doesn't obey the agreements that they signed.
If they did everything according to the agreements, people could live here and children could play in the schoolyard. Now we can't even stand near it; it's too dangerous.
People took their children away from the town because of the constant shelling, and because some of the shells didn't explode so it's very dangerous to walk in the area. Also, parents don't want their children on the streets under the heavy machine-gun fire.
I've seen children die under Ukrainian attacks. I saw my friends die from Ukrainian shelling. I've seen too many dead civilians. I will never surrender, there is no way to make peace with the Ukrainian side without our army.
Their biggest mistake was coming here and using weapons against civilians. Tell your government not to train and arm Ukrainian soldiers."
As we drove away, house after house we passed had its walls blown out, some covered in plastic, some covered with wood, one lined with logs.
Dmitry commented: "There's no one on the road now. Around 5 p.m., they start hiding in their homes, because the shelling can start now."
We stopped again in Zaitsevo's main square and took a group photo, clad in body armor. Dmitry explained that custom dictated that photos should be taken after safely returning from the front line.
In spite of the places I've lived and reported from, including in close proximity to terrorists in Syria and being repeatedly shot at with live ammunition by the Israeli army, this the first time I'd worn body armor.
As cumbersome as it was, I think to myself, these locals, subject every day to Ukraine's bombings, snipings and heavy machine-gun fire, do not have this lifesaving luxury. Nor, for many, the luxury of fleeing to an area less prone to the bombing. So they remain, patch up their homes if they can, and endure the terror unleashed upon them nearly every day and night.
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