When the great yellow truck finally rolled in, we fell into great applause. Due to the cold (the siding of the truck was still falling off) I was moved to the cabin, squeezed in with Žana, Yuliya and Sergiy.
For the last leg of the trip, the brakes had gone out, and the creative Sergiy had to navigate a down-shifting, emergency-break using halt. Coupled with the siding that was falling off, a roof that was now caved in, I struggled to live up to my philosophy of “be happy, it could be worse.”
At that point, short of getting killed, I didn’t really think it could get worse!
I spend a lot of time complaining about women’s lack of action – but these two women are the amazing exception.
After news had spread about the incident in Debaltseve, a nearby unit of Ukrainian soldiers offered us shelter at a forward operating base. As we entered the compound – I could not believe they knowingly allowed a journalist in – I heard a few of them laughing at our yellow truck, seeming to hang on by the hinges.
The scene was out of Band of Brothers. It was drizzling, the ground was black with mud and lines of military vehicles were undergoing maintenance. The tracked vehicles had pulled up some of the concrete, and now the cold water and ice collected in these craters. The sound of metal banging and artillery in the distance echoed through the frigid air. The buildings were made of dilapidated, exposed gray and red bricks. Rusted metal doors that had once been green now turned to orange rust.
The soldiers immediately set to help Sergiy repair the truck.
I saw a man with a German camouflage jacket, a cigarette dangling from his lips and a log over one of his shoulders. With a grunt, he tossed it onto the side of a tank and began to lash it with twine. When I asked Jonas what that was for, he told me that if they get stuck in the mud, they put it under the tanks to get it back out again.
I was thoroughly impressed by the guy carrying a tree on his shoulder, but no one else seemed to notice.
The atmosphere was bleak, the only color were the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags that danced in the wind and the yellow armbands the soldiers war across their biceps over their bulky winter clothes.
They gave us shelter until our truck could be fixed. I asked if it would not be better to find another vehicle – a suggestion that was met with raised eyebrows and a smile in reassurance against my lack of faith.
“They are Ukrainian,” Jonas explained, “They don’t give up. They will make it work.”
People have long tried to explain to me the Ukrainian ingenuity – they don’t call Triple A, or ask for a tow truck. Not even in war. There’s a way to salvage these old machines and they will do it – because help is never on the way. So they are raised to do things for themselves, to get creative and solve the problems because if they don’t, no one else will.
Next in the series: Part 4, Fighting like it’s 1919