In the Donbass
A visit to Mariupol after the fighting
By Stefan Natke
This article, one of a series on the war in Ukraine, was published March 6 in the German daily newspaper, junge Welt. Its report on the reconstruction of a city on the coast of the Donbass region clashes with the propaganda in the corporate media. Translated by John Catalinotto.
Once again we are awakened at seven o’clock in the morning by the thunderous fire of heavy artillery. But this time the earth does not vibrate. Ljoschka, our constant companion, says, “Don’t worry, this time they’re ours; they’re giving back what we got yesterday, return shipment, so to speak.”
Guillermo calls out, “Guys, there is running water, but only cold.” After a shower, a quick breakfast, and we’re off again. “Dawai, dawai!” . . . Off we go on the bus to Mariupol.
Leaving Donetsk, we pass the soccer stadium. Further along in the suburbs, we pass shot-up factories, and then, after the city exit checkpoint, we get on the highway to Mariupol. While in the previous days, we drove over roads between Lugansk, Gorlovka and Donetsk full of large potholes, today we roar over a completely renovated highway with a perfect asphalt surface.
The transport of goods to Mariupol has absolute priority. We can see this for ourselves when we arrive. While there are virtually no undamaged houses here, the renovation and construction work in the city on the Sea of Azov is in full swing. As we drive into the center, we see new windows being installed on several rows of houses.
A historic block of houses from the early Soviet era is being repaired by a Turkish company. With the help of the Turkish members of our group, we can talk to the workers.
Trucks loaded with rubble or building materials pass us continuously. While old buildings in the city center are being renovated, workers erect new buildings in open areas and build entire new construction districts on the outskirts of Mariupol. We have the opportunity to visit one of them and are even allowed to look at the apartments.
We speak with residents we meet on the street near the playgrounds. Some of them lived in the old buildings in the center before, but are now happy about the new apartments. They also tell us how they suffered as [ethnic] Russians through the time before the intervention. “You were suddenly a foreigner in your own homeland. We never experienced anything like that before,” one of the residents tells us.
A new home is guaranteed
Those whose previous homes were destroyed get a certificate that entitles them to a new place to stay. The destroyed furniture is also replaced by the state. There is no charge in the first year. After that, they must pay only the fees for electricity, water and heating.
The new construction projects began in the summer of 2022. The initial residents have already moved in, and new ones are moving in every day.
Then for us, it’s off to the center once again, and we visit the city’s train station, which is right by the sea. The burned-out trains are still standing on the tracks, and the destruction of the infrastructure is clearly visible. It will be some time before it will be open for business here again.
We cannot visit the Azov Steelworks, which made the city world-famous months ago, because the fascist battalions “Aidar” and “Azov” have entrenched themselves there, but we can visit the city’s market.
Hustle and bustle dominates, and an astonishing number of goods are offered. From vegetables to underwear to fried chicken legs, everything is there.
As always, we want to talk to the people on the street, and we reach out to a woman. The experiences she describes to us are moving, but she is glad that she can now breathe freely again and that the nightmare is over. On this day, the sun announces the approaching spring for the people of Mariupol. After a small snack at the market, we get back on our bus — the journey continues.