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Ukraine's War on Donbass: An Interview with Filmmaker Maxim Fadeev

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Later I filmed a breakthrough attempt at Maryinka. In Maryinka, the unit was in for a storm, and it was my first attempt at filming attacking troops. There, we were in a vulnerable position in the open, and I was concentrating more on staying alive than on filming. The attack was abortive, the attacking forces had to retreat, having suffered heavy losses.

I reported the events in Slavyansk - the beginning of the hot phase of the war. What was happening in Slavyansk was that the rebels sat tight in one place, and Ukrainian artillery of all kinds of caliber, tanks and aircraft pounded the city and the surrounding settlements. Strelkov's group from the Crimea entered the city, 52 men. The very first day, about 300 locals joined them, including some of my friends. They made a decision to fight with a machine gun in their hands, and I - with a camera, showing the real state of things that Ukrainian media were silent about.

In Slavyansk we were always under artillery fire, and I had no chance to film machine-gun fire. I shot the first clashes with the use of machine-guns at the Donetsk airport. The clashes took place inside the buildings, so, in most cases the militiamen were protected from artillery fire by concrete walls.

I filmed the suffering of the civilians and also reported from positions in Semyonovka. This locality in the outskirts of the city was connecting the besieged rebels with the outer world, it was their lifeline, in fact.

The hostilities mainly took place there. They cannot even be called true hostilities - they were the raids of sabotage, reconnaissance groups and ambushes. The militiamen also downed military aircraft and choppers attacking both civilian quarters and their positions. The city is situated in a valley and is surrounded by hills. One of the hills was under militia control, and the other three hills were occupied by Ukrainian artillery, which pounded what they called "Russian terrorist forces". I filmed the impacts upon my school, people being rescued from under the rubble, and I myself helped to evacuate the wounded.

As far as the significance of those events is concerned: Slavyansk is the city in which armed confrontation started, the full-scale war began. Before that, there were separate incidents of activists assassinations. The conflict already was grave. Maidan protestors captured military arsenals, prosecutors' offices, police stations, and regional administrations offices in the West of Ukraine. At first, the wave of such attacks rolled along Western Ukraine, then the unrest reached Kharkov and Donetsk, where the overwhelming majority of the population was pro-Russian and did not approve of the Maidan coup.

Roadblocks were erected around the city, controlled by local inhabitants whose main task was to not to let the Ukrainian army inside the city."

-EB: Have you been injured in the course of your work?

-MF: "Yes, I was wounded twice. The first injury I received while filming in the Donetsk airport, some of the shrapnel is still inside my body. I got the second injury when I was filming training exercises at a firing ground. Generally, the more time spent on the front line, the higher is the risk of getting wounded. One has to follow safety rules, but you cannot foresee every circumstance, and no one can guarantee your security in the course of hostilities."

-EB: What are some of the more difficult (emotionally) moments of your work over the years?

-MF: "The most difficult moments must be those in Slavyansk. The Ukrainian heavy artillery division was three kilometers from my home. Its fire went over our heads, pounding the city. The pictures and the clock on the walls were shaking not because of the impacts, but because of outgoing fire.

However, one day, the firing shifted and they started targeting our block of apartments. We had no water for a month by then, and the people living in our block were taking water from one of the water-towers. Once I went there for water and saw that everything around me was destroyed by artillery fire. I saw the rubble, the torn wires. It was a warm summer evening, and everything was quiet, too quiet. I was more than forty years old, and I never experienced such dead silence inside the city. There was always normal urban noise: car sounds, humans talking" And at that moment the city was deadly quiet. I could only hear cats wailing and the sounds of distant gun fire. I was pumping water and thinking that a shell explosion can target me any minute. It was scary.

While our side was not equipped with enough artillery to resist, the UAF relentlessly shelled our towns in order to intimidate the population. That shelling was senseless from the military point of view. It did not exterminate the armed rebels or their fortifications.

In Semyonovka, they did not eliminate the rebel positions, but they wiped from the face of the earth the entire settlement. A heavy artillery division needs onlyhalf an hour to destroy several sectors of private housing.

In the course of a month at the start of the war, I was subjected to120-mm artillery fire, then 122-mm, 82-mm. When they started pounding the suburb of high-rise buildings with 152-mm shells, it was very frightening. The explosionshockwave can knock you off your feet. You hear a powerful sound reverberated by the neighbouring buildings, an echo, when a shell hits a house. The 20-mm shells are a crock of sh*t, but the 152-mm ones" The powder clouds, the dust, the moaning of the wounded"

I knew nothing back then about first aid measures, and several times I was the first to reach the impact site, where I found injured people, and I could do nothing to help them, I was just running in circles like an idiot and shouting: "Please, someone, call an ambulance!"

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Eva Bartlett is a Canadian independent journalist and activist. She has spent years on the ground covering conflict zones in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Palestine. She is a recipient of the International Journalism Award for International Reporting. Visit her personal blog,  (more...)

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