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Donbass and Civilians: Stories That Touch the Soul


Three years ago, the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation made the first presentation of a unique photobook Donbass and Civilians. The book includes 11 stories of Donbass civilians who suffered from the armed conflict. Its heroes are severely wounded children, elderly people who lost their family members and were left to live in half-destroyed houses, schoolchildren and teachers who continued schooling amid the hostilities. This is a photo narration about human destinies, about burnt-down houses and charred life prospects. About how people survived with the hope for peace that comes to their villages, cities and towns together with the help from Rinat Akhmetov.

The photobook Donbass and Civilians was presented in Kyiv and Brussels, in Lviv and London, in Frankfurt and Strasbourg. It was recognized in the category "The Best Social Photobook of the Year" of the Ukrainian Library Fund.

Members of the Yakovlev-Chyhryn family became one of the photobook’s heroes. Before the armed conflict, the head of the family, Olena, lived in Donetsk and dreamed of a close-knit family and children. In a hospital, just by accident, she came across little Darynka who was left alone. Although, the child's misadventures did not end there. It turned out that Daryna was not well-received at school. She stopped smiling and even thought about suicide. Then psychologists of the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation came to the rescue.

And literally a few months after the adoption of the girl, at Donetsk orphanage, Olena met Vika and Tolik who had lost their mother. Their story horrified the woman: at that time the kids did not know how to read and write, did not know the seasons of the year. Their mother died, and their own father beat them to fainting and even levelled their teeth with a file. Thus, Olena became a mother of three children. They started living as one big family. Everyone was happy until a volley of guns rang out over their house.

‘Our family was built a few months before the conflict,’ says Olena. ‘Soon we had to leave our home in Donetsk. We had been changing places for quite a long time until we finally settled in Kyiv. Very often the kids ask me to come back. Then I have to open the Internet, show them some destroyed buildings and tell them what is happening there now. And their desire to come back wanes a bit. Many children and adults suffered then. Many houses were destroyed by shelling there. People should know that there are still things in Donbass that we may not know here.’

The Yakovlev-Chyhryn family are participants in various projects and programs of the Foundation. In particular, Daryna, Vika and Tolik underwent a course of psychological rehabilitation within the framework of the project Rinat Akhmetov for Children. Peaceful Summer.

The stories of the photobook's heroes have become part of a new project the Museum of Civilian Voices that was created on the personal initiative of Rinat Akhmetov.

‘The Foundation tells and will continue telling about the fates of Donbass civilians to as many people around the world as possible. The Museum of Civilian Voices is a documentary project aimed at collecting testimonies from people whose lives the conflict in Donbass forever divided into “before” and “after”. It is the source of true stories of Donbass civilians told in the first person by people who have gone through the horrors of the armed conflict. Help from Rinat Akhmetov saved millions of civilians in the east of the country. There is a separate story behind every saved life. The Foundation plans to collect a million stories, and for the near future it sets itself a goal of 100,000 testimonies from Civilians, of which 1,000 has already been collected. It is important to record the facts described by eyewitnesses so that those events are never repeated for the sake of a better future,’ said Yuliia Yershova, Chief Communications Officer of the Foundation.

The Museum of Civilian Voices is a safe and trustworthy space for civilians of Donbass where they can tell their stories to the world, thus freeing themselves from the burden of silence, encouraging others to share their stories, enabling their fellow countrymen, compatriots and other people to hear, to see, to understand with their own minds and feel with their own hearts the pain they experienced.

Your story matters too! Tell it to the world. Follow the link and fill out a short questionnaire to make your input in the preservation of memories.