Despite Shelling, Ukrainian Workers Keep On Watering The Flowers : Parallels Amid major fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists, electricity, water and other city services continue. The workers face risks associated with war as well as divided allegiances.
NPR logo

Despite Shelling, Ukrainian Workers Keep On Watering The Flowers

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/345158349/345158350" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Despite Shelling, Ukrainian Workers Keep On Watering The Flowers

Despite Shelling, Ukrainian Workers Keep On Watering The Flowers

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/345158349/345158350" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's report on people living in the war zone. Russian-backed separatists hold the regional capital Donetsk. Despite the Ukrainian government shelling of that city, most homes and businesses have electricity and running water, buses run and the trash is picked up. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports on the people who are doing that.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: A half-dozen city workers here in Donetsk sweep away the destruction left by a deadly artillery strike on a cultural center where rebels were hiding out.

VLADIMIR: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: One worker is Vladimir. The 65-year-old retired janitor, like almost all the municipal employees interviewed, is afraid to give his last name. Vladimir says he works as a street sweeper to supplement his meager pension of $80 a month. His is a dangerous occupation these days. A street sweeper was killed by shelling on a road a short drive away. But Vladimir shrugs off the risk, saying he takes pride in his work.

VLADIMIR: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: It's important to come here day after day to keep the city clean, he says. That's how 54-year-old engineer Sergei feels about his job as well. He and his team of electricians restored the water supply to this regional capital after heavy fighting cut power to the main filtration plant last month.

SERGEI: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: He says the shelling is a constant worry for him and his men given that they work outdoors. Many times, they've had to quit their repairs before they were finished to escape the fighting.

SERGEI: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: Sergei says he's often considered leaving Donetsk, but that if he does, he worries his men won't stay either. He adds someone has to make sure the power stays on. Konstantin Batozky, a senior advisor to the Kiev-appointed governor, says keeping things running in Donetsk is complicated. After the rebels seized control, most of the administration were forced to relocate two hours south to the Southern port city of Mariupol, from where they keep in touch with workers by phone.

KONSTANTIN BATOZKY: We understand that keeping going is the only way not to go mad in a city which is seized and occupied. That's why it's so important to water flowers every day on Central Street because people should get the hope that normal life will come back soon.

NELSON: But if and when the war ends, city workers may face a new set of problems. Employees here are under constant pressure to pledge allegiance to the Ukrainian government or self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. Those who choose the losing side could eventually face charges of treason. Batozky says that Kiev-appointed city administration doesn't consider employees who've stayed behind in Donetsk to be traitors or criminals. But he adds it doesn't take much to cross that line.

BATOZKY: In this situation, we felt that our employees have free will. And if they choose cooperation, they should understand all the risks that they will become criminals in Ukrainians' point of view.

NELSON: So it probably is no surprise that in many Donetsk workers' offices, there aren't any Ukrainian or rebel flags posters. For example, Christian icons are the only items in Victor Astakhov's office. He's the official the Donetsk People's Republic refers NPR to for an interview about how the city is running. The 62-year-old engineer is in charge of building maintenance in one Donetsk district where 85 percent of workers are still on the job. He's extremely uncomfortable when I ask him about which side he and his men are loyal to.

VICTOR ASTAKHOV: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: He says, I have a boss who doesn't know whether he answers to Kiev or the People's Republic. In my opinion, it's not Kiev. But the maintenance engineer is more concerned about what's going to happen if the war continues.

ASTAKHOV: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: He says they are going to run out of building materials as early as next month. The reason is that along with much of the population, the suppliers have left Donetsk. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Parallels

Many Stories, One World

About