The city of Donetsk is getting ready for the party.
Instead of celebrating Christmas, the December 25 in these parts is celebrated on New Year's Eve; decorated firs are popping up everywhere in the squares, in the gardens, in the public buildings as well as the ever-present intermittent lights.
During the day the activities flow regularly, while at night by the 23 the curfew is still in force and the noise of the war replaces those of traffic and the flow of life.
If in the city center the signs of the war are now imperceptible, as they approach the area of the airport they are manifested with increasing evidence, to the point of canceling any residue of what is called "normality" in our area.
Just in those parts I went to meet Spartaco, the Italian volunteer who from the 2014 militates in the ranks of the army of the DNR.
Wounded four times and highly decorated, Spartacus is one of the veterans of this conflict who has seen him on the front since the very first hour.
To meet him again is always a pleasure for me; I find it well despite the life of the trench, complains of headaches and a chronic difficulty to sleep but do not talk about PTSD could end badly.
Spartaco and two guys from his group accompany me for a round of patrolling the area. Of the civilians who inhabited the area there are only two couples of elderly who have had the house spared from the fury of the bombings, while the rest are only rubble, desolation and packs of stray dogs.
The military move cautiously in the bush that surrounds the area, after all the red ribbon exposed at the entrance leaves no doubt: the area is completely undermined and even today it is not known the location of all the devices.
I am shown two anti-tank mines located along the main path while Spartacus tells me about Rafi the Afghan volunteer who, just two months ago, lost his legs in that area by jumping on an anti-personnel mine.
Near Spartaco's station there is Spartak, a village that before the war had more than 5000 inhabitants but now has little more than 40 souls who persist in living in their homes semi-destroyed by bombs without light, water or gas.
I spent a whole week with them sharing the daily routine of socially useful work, moments of conviviality, but above all of privation: I experienced the difficulty of facing the rigors of winter without any kind of domestic use, not to mention the nights spent in the underground shelters, in environments completely saturated with the fumes of the artisan wood stoves, to escape the night bombardments.
I followed them at all stages of their lives: I attended the distribution of drinking water, the assignment of daily work, I went to school with the only two girls in the community at 6.00 in the morning in complete darkness in precarious balance on the ice .
I lost myself in the silence of absence to be re-awakened every time by a blast always too close shots.
With the commander of the area I visited the advanced stations, located a few hundred meters from those of the army of Kiev and always with him I returned to the bunker in which we found refuge in the 2016 during a night bombardment.
Of the building that hosted us on that occasion very little remained standing, a sign that the "Nothing" continues inexorably to advance.
In the city I had the opportunity to meet Captain Goodwin.
Currently his job is to record, verify and publish the consequences of Ukrainian military activities and to report the training of the military of the DNR.
He informs me that recently the Ukrainian army occupied Gladosovo and Metalist two villages located in the Gray Zone.
With a touch of irony he tells me that even though they have no strategic value, their conquest has been accompanied by the Ukrainian media as a great victory on the field, a sign that he is facing difficulties in the internal front of the Kiev government, constantly pressured by the ultra-nationalist fringes. they were short of military successes to present to their audience.
The November 23 government buildings in Lugansk were surrounded by soldiers with no identification signs (the only badge was a white band on the arm as a sign of mutual recognition) that ordered the guards to hand over their weapons. When asked by the local authorities, these people did not reveal who ordered them or the orders of those who were executing them.
According to the official version the soldiers who took Lugansk were police officers of the LNR and the MGB (State Security Officers, ed).
A source inside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DNR told me that the forces loyal to Plotnitski were not able to react and he himself did not know what to do at the time.
The whole day was not clear who those people were but no one had the courage to do anything because it was not clear what was happening.
When several Ural loads of soldiers from the DNR arrived in the evening, it was finally understood that the LNR Police and Security Services who had taken part in the action were supported by DNR.
Plotniskij had long been living under escort in his office as head of the LNR government because he feared for his safety: it seems that to save his life was his signature on the Minsk agreements on which he said he wanted to maintain the role of guarantor.
The morning after the Plotnisky operation he made a video from his office in which he blamed his assailants for serving the Ukrainians.
At the 12 about Plotniskij fled to Rostov where he personally consulted with Russian political officials who continued not to take sides on the incident. It was probably already too late and the balance of power was clearly favorable to the insurgents.
Politically this can be considered a first step towards the unification of the two republics and the fact that Moscow has not intervened suggests that this is a solution desired by the Kremlin especially in light of the fact that it would be easier for the Russian government to control a source of expenditure for humanitarian aid rather than two, also because in recent times the economic aid from Moscow in the LNR took too often the wrong way.
MGB minister Leonid Pasechnik after Plotnisky's resignation assumed the role of head of the LNR.
I asked my source in the Foreign Ministry if there is no fear of an intensification of the conflict for the new year due to the upcoming presidential elections in Russia and the football world championships that will take place in the summer in the Federation; he replied that every time the eyes of the world were focused on Moscow, the Kiev government never lost the opportunity to resume hostilities, considering the global public opinion as an excellent deterrent for any initiative by the Kremlin to defense of the republics.
Therefore, in the coming months we must expect an escalation of the conflict and the signals we have recorded these days go exactly in this direction; in fact, the Trump administration has approved in these days the largest arms sales to Ukraine from the 2014; the contract should also provide for the supply of the unsupervised anti-tank missile Javelin, which would be provided in number of 210 specimens including 35 launchers.
We are left to console ourselves with the exchange of Christmas prisoners on December 27 in the Ukrainian city of Nikolaevka where 306 people have been able to return to the DNR in the face of 76 who can return to the territory controlled by the Kiev government.
(On the way before dawn to go to school)
(the life of families near the front)
(the Afghan volunteer Rafi)
(text and photo: Giorgio Bianchi)