I was jostled around in the dark. Only a small gap between the cargo bay doors let in the yellow street light that traveled from top to bottom as we traveled down the bumpy, Ukrainian road. I was in a sleeping bag, huddled on top of a pile of boxes that I had pushed and kicked so I could be swaddled in their hard, pointed edges.
Each breath came out as steam as I shivered against the cold – Ukrainian winters are ball’s cold and a childhood life in Switzerland did not prepare me for it. I felt like I was in a refrigerator.
The truck exterior had a large yellow advertisement for a margarine brand, and the suspension was not meant for the bumpy roads that got increasingly less maintained the further east we went – closer to the war zone.
I was riding in the cargo hold of the grocery truck to the front lines of the Ukrainian war. Add that to the bucket list.
I was there with Jonas Ohman, the Lithuania-based Swedish filmmaker and creator of “The Invisible Front” (my review here). Jonas had invited me to tag along to the Ukrainian front lines as his organization, BLUE/YELLOW, ran supplies to the soldiers to include drones, scopes and a shit ton of food, winter gear and medication.
A few days after departing Kyiv, we found ourselves in Debaltseve, the front, ride siding of the cargo hold peeled off, and blow cold air, rain, snow and ice on top of us. We created a small box fort, a little trench in the boxes to block the cold air as the siding rattled and clanged as it held on to the last few bolts as the passing wind tried to rip it open.
“At least we have light now,” Jonas said with a cynical laugh.
Debaltseve was the site of another assault by the separatist fighters that were a part of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) – and it occurred the day we arrived. It was a two-pronged assault, as the separatists pushed into Debaltseve in the north and south towards the sea in Mariupol. We were slithering down a small road between the artillery from the two lines that launched grads from one side to the other, to reach a far off unit that was cut off from the rest of the Ukrainian-controlled line.
Then our grocery truck broke down.
I was in the back as the grads (artillery) came crashing around us, rattling the truck’s sides and shaking me to the bones as it came with a whomp! and the thunderous boom.
I was immediately reconsidering all of my life’s decisions.
Continued on Part 2: Partizans