While the Russian military is frequently blamed for the city’s destruction, Tatyana has a different perspective.
She was referring to Ukrainian military and paramilitaries who are considered far-right fighters by Russian government officials as “neo-Nazis.”
“The Ukrainian side has been bombarding the entire city since February 24. We didn’t see any Russian forces until March 16, and only Ukrainians were patrolling our neighborhoods and setting up checkpoints, blocking the way. Even if you merely walked out to see your grandmother, you wouldn’t be able to return the same way since the road would be closed.
According to the UN, Russia’s war on Ukraine had displaced more than six million people by the end of May. The vast majority fled west, with 3.5 million seeking refuge in Poland alone.
However, the refugees moving east, to Russia, receive less attention.
Since February, more than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees have landed in Russia, according to the Ministry of Emergency Situations. Many of them have a completely different vision of the situation than those interviewed by Western media.
The first wave arrived on February 24, just before the war began, when pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine’s so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) declared the evacuation of all women and children ahead of an impending Ukrainian onslaught. For mobilization, men of fighting age were held behind.
‘It’s been a terrible day,’ says the narrator.
Lyubov Gerasimenko, 38, is from Ilovaisk, a town in the Donetsk region where, in 2014, a deadly fighting erupted between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces.
She remarked, “It was a horrific day that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.” “[When the battle broke out], my companion and I were riding the bus when we heard rumbling in the distance. We heard our hometown was being bombed by planes and rockets when we got out. In the distance, we could see broken windows, dangling wires, and houses smoking. I dashed home, only to discover that the kids were nowhere to be found. I realized they were sheltering in the cellar at my father’s house, so I dashed straight there, where a serious crossfire erupted from all sides.
“We had to sit there with matches and candlelight since the electricity went out.” We thought it was ended after 10 to 15 minutes of silence, so we went outside, but as soon as we heard another blast, we all ran back into the basement since we didn’t know where the next round would come from.”
The DPR took control of the town following the conflict.
Lyubov and her younger children joined the evacuation to Russia on February 19th, boarding a train to the border and then on to Moscow.
Refugees are housed in temporary tents at the border for a brief period of time before being bussed throughout the country.
Around the country, refugee shelters have been established in boarding houses, hotels, and children’s summer camps.
They are given toiletries and clean clothing there. Veterinarians examine injured pets, and students attend classes at local schools.
However, some of these migrants have expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s lack of assistance in the camps.
“At first, we lived with relatives in Moscow, but it was quite unpleasant, so we were granted a place to stay at a refugee center.” The kids needed to go to school, and everything appeared to be in order,” Lyubov told Al Jazeera.
“We couldn’t leave or go to work because the conditions at the center were not good.” Our friends and family were not permitted to visit us, and we were not permitted to see them as well. We had to return by the evening if we went, or we’d be kicked out. We’d have to travel half an hour through the woods to reach civilisation because the camp was in the middle of nowhere. We were nourished, but for four months the government did not [give us with any money], and we were unable to work. We didn’t have any money, and the kids wanted to eat fruit. So, in the end, I chose to leave and look for work.”
“On March 16, our next-door neighbor informed us that the Ukrainian positions had been breached. We didn’t waste any time: my spouse climbed into the car, and we were on our way.”
Tatyana, who requested that her complete name and other personal information be withheld from Al Jazeera, now resides in Moscow with distant relatives and is looking for work.
“People don’t have money,” Svetlana Gannushkina, co-founder of Civic Assistance Committee, one of the organizations dealing with newcomers, said. In Rostov, the promised 10,000 roubles [about $170] are only reliably distributed after a lengthy bureaucratic procedure. Clearly, the budget didn’t have enough money to give everyone 10,000 roubles. You could count on one hand the number of families who have been compensated out of the thousand we’ve seen.”
Russian authorities have designated her organization as a “foreign agent.”
“Food and shelter are provided in the temporary accommodation centers, but a person cannot survive without money.” Please give us anything, is their fundamental request to us. We started by giving away 5,000 roubles at a time, and you can understand how difficult it is for a little organization like ours to give out 5,000 roubles to everyone. Our money vanishes in an instant.”
Meanwhile, the Russian government has been accused of forcibly moving citizens from captured Ukrainian territory, resettling them in isolated areas of Russia, or exploiting them for propaganda purposes. Gannushkina, who signed an open letter opposing Russia’s military assault, said she has not come across any incidents of anyone being detained against their will.
“I’m not aware of any incidents where someone was abducted by force,” she continued, “but migrants don’t have a choice.” “Imagine you’re in a basement, bombs are dropping outside, and you have no idea what’s going on. The hatch opens, and some troops tell you there’s a bus, get on board.” What are your thoughts on the matter? No?”
“However, it should be noted that many of them wished to travel to Russia – not only from the Donbas, but also from other Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine – but that is not for me to say.”
‘Filtration technique’ is a term used to describe how something is filtered.
Many Ukrainians, like Tatyana, share the Kremlin’s outrage at what they regard as discrimination against Russian-speakers in Ukraine, as well as the West’s claimed participation in kindling the crisis.
“At work, there had been some complaints about my serving customers in Russian. I can communicate in Ukrainian, but I dislike it. “I was told I had to exclusively converse in Ukrainian,” she explained.
“This was done to our city by European governments.” They are to blame because they supplied the weaponry and humiliated us and the Donetsk region for the past eight years.”
What is certain is that Ukrainian migrants must go through a murky “filtration” procedure. Witnesses have described being interrogated, fingerprinted, and having the contents of their phones and electronics scrutinized at border crossings, while soldiers hang on to their passports.
Although the majority are freed promptly, it is unknown what happens to those who are not.
“Depending on where you are, the filtration technique differs,” Gannushkina explained.
“We’ve had families who were questioned for 15 to 20 minutes and everyone got through, and then we’ve had families who were kept for five or six hours, undressed and examined for tattoos, and asked questions they didn’t understand.” They’d inquire about Ukrainian military locations — after all, what would someone in the cellar know? They have no idea in which direction they’re being shot at.”
“However, the most terrifying thing is when someone fails to pass filtering.” There was a large Roma family of 36 people, and all but one of them passed. Something was wrong with the passport of a young man in his twenties. Finally, our volunteers were able to locate him. But I had a different group, consisting of three women and one man. The women got through, but the man didn’t. When his sister inquired about what happens if he fails filtration, the great warrior said, “I already fired 10, then I grew tired and quit counting.”
While Gannushkina is usually able to locate people through her contacts, there is little she can do in this circumstance.
Al Jazeera was unable to independently confirm the man’s fate.
Those that make it across safely have their thoughts on their families and friends who are left behind.
Lyubov’s older boys, ages 18 and 20, were held back to be drafted by the separatists, but they have yet to be sent to the front lines.
“Every day, people are still dying there,” she stated.