A week’s vacation from the front
Es is quiet in this place. No engine rattling, no detonations. Only the wind rushing through the tops of the tall pines and the crackling of the remains of snow under your boots. A group of men stand in front of the building decorated with golden stucco. Clean soldier’s jackets, hushed conversations. But on the fingers, between which the hastily smoked cigarettes are clamped, the dark edges can be seen. The mud from the trenches is still stuck in the grooves of the brittle skin and under the nails. “I’m fine,” says Wasyl Kustenko and the small, alert eyes that look out of his tanned face seem to want to underline it. The only thing that keeps bothering him is the headache.
For almost a year Vasyl Kustenko, whom others only call Uncle Vasya, has been fighting with his unit in the Donbass in the south-east of the Ukraine. First, his unit held the town of Avdiivka near Donetsk, where the Russians had advanced only a few hundred yards since the first days of the war. Later Vasylivka further north where the Ukrainians eventually had to retreat. With a casual wave of his hand, Wasyl dismisses anyone who speaks of an “offensive” by the Russians this winter. “They’ve been pushing all the time since day one, almost every day, almost non-stop,” he says.