Nikishino, Ukraine is a shell, a town blasted by conflict. It was home to 900 people before the fighting started in eastern Ukraine, but then found itself on the line of battle for more than six months. Now little is left intact. But that did not stop many of the people of Nikishino from coming back to their homes in the first days after the ceasefire negotiated in February.
Like a giant skeletal robot, its veins slashed and bled dry, the electrical pylon stands in the fog of eastern Ukraine. It is one of many on the road to Nikishino, a sort of honour guard of destruction, leading to a town of almost total desolation.
In the street Galina stands like a sentinel, staring into an unknown future. She holds two plastic bags, one with aid donated by UN agencies, the other from the Irish department store Dunnes, holding personal effects from her destroyed house. She has just come from there and is going to the house of her dead mother, a rare dwelling relatively unscathed by the conflict.
“I’m 65,” Galina says. “And everything I have, I’m holding.”
In several decades of reporting, I’ve seen the effects of wars in Afghanistan, the Middle East and eastern Europe. Nikishino stands at the head of the list of destruction. Not a building, not a dwelling was untouched.
Yet, within days of the ceasefire, people were driving back to start to rebuild. And when the trucks of UNHCR arrived with packages of aid, almost 200 people were waiting patiently, most having signed a petition to the authorities to send experts to clear away the unexploded ordinance in the streets and gardens of the town.
Why come back to danger and destruction?