Marinka is a small town in eastern Ukraine once known best for its dairy factory. Since 2014, though, it’s seen of some of the heaviest fighting along Ukraine’s frontline. Not as well known as Avdiivka, Pisky, Opytnoe or Shyronkyne, Marinka nevertheless is among the five or ten most dangerous places to live in Ukraine—which is to say, in Europe. Its residents tend to be families that lack the means to leave: single mothers, elderly pensioners and families with disabled members.
Winters are brutal, with little to block the frigid winds blowing down from the Arctic. Heavy snow and freezing fogs are not uncommon, adding the threat of weather to other common threats like high-caliber artillery exchanges, tank battles, and protracted gunfire. For some, the cold is the bitterest threat—young children living in poverty, as well as the oldest pensioners. All that would be bad enough—adding to that indignity is the fact that in 2014, during the Ukrainian military’s advance against the separatists in the area, the gas pipelines were damaged. Since that time, Marinka has had no gas heat. The massive Soviet-era residential buildings that make up a good deal of Marinka’s housing were designed to rely on gas heat. Without it, the only way to heat the concrete apartments is with electricity, and electricity is much, much more expensive than gas heat—so much so, in fact, that it often exceeds the entire amount of pensioners’ income.
Mortales visited three elderly pensioners of Marinka—people who should have been able to spend their retirement without fear of death from cold (to say nothing of shelling, gunfire, or starvation) after long, productive lives. Each of them were born before or during World War II—in a very real sense, war is a fundamental part of their being, in spite of the dreamlike peace that interrupted it. Raissa F., a former veterinarian, was injured during a rocket attack, and is wheelchair bound. Her broken leg has not mended properly—she knows this, in the way that someone who used to tend lame horses would know what a broken bone looked and felt like. Her pension barely covers electricity, so there’s little left over when it comes to food—she has to heat her home with electricity, and still covers herself with blankets to shield herself against the worst of the cold. Her children are both dead, and she depends on the generosity of volunteers to eat. She’s 78 years old. Her father died during World War II. She remembers this, vaguely.
The Mortales team, through the support of our generous donors, was able to fund the electricity and coal bills this winter ensuring the safety of the three at-risk elderly pensioners.