Hanna and the demarcation line, a Ukrainian story

Hanna and the demarcation line, a Ukrainian story

A few months ago, Hanna, a 33-year-old Ukrainian, took it into her head to pick up her nephew Konstantin, her brother’s son, 15, from the other side of the demarcation line. A story like thousands are told in Ukraine during these times of war, where men and women try to cross in both directions, through a single crossing point, the 2,000 kilometer scar that winds from the south west to north-east of Ukraine, between free country and occupied zone, where the Russians have been trying to impose their law since February 24.

When we meet her in the suburb of Zaporijia where she lives, about thirty kilometers from the Russian lines, Hanna calmly explains: the divorce of Konstantin’s parents, the mother who first left to live with her parents in a small village that had fallen under Russian influence from the end of February, in the Kherson region. The mother returned to live in the free zone with her new husband, leaving the teenager with his maternal grandparents who do not want to leave. Too old. Konstantin, stuck since the start of the invasion. Unbearable for the teenager’s father and his young aunt.

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Hanna lives near the single crossing point set up in Zaporijia by the Ukrainian authorities in May in order to secure, as much as possible, and facilitate, in principle, transit between the two areas. In this story, it’s his only chance. That, and his stubbornness. For the rest, everything is in league against his project.

As of March 4, eight days after the start of the Russian invasion, the front line was frozen in this region and it has not moved to this day, despite the current Ukrainian counter-offensives towards Kherson, in the southwest, and in the Kharkiv region in the northeast.

A message sent by Hanna's nephew, who writes to her that there is no more electricity in Kherson and that, therefore, her cell phone has no battery.  Here in Zaporizhia (Ukraine), August 30, 2022.
A Ukrainian woman who arrived from the occupied territories waits for a relative to pick her up, in Zaporizhia (Ukraine), on August 31, 2022.

Hanna and her brother first plan to bring Konstantin by car or bus with a resident of the occupied zone. Volunteers sometimes make the trip from the free zone, bring humanitarian aid, return with inhabitants fleeing the forced Russification of the school, arbitrary arrests or bombardments.

But even in these times of war, the bureaucracy retains its rights. Konstantin will not be able to cross the demarcation line if he does not have his identity papers. However, these are in the free zone… Only solution: that someone goes there with his documents and tries to bring Konstantin back.

bureaucratic marathon

Fairly quickly, Hanna dismisses the proposal to take advantage of a hypothetical passage of humanitarian aid north of Kherson. If she managed to cross the line over there, the part occupied by the Russians would take less time to cross, so fewer checkpoints, less risk of running into a Russian soldier who was too picky about searching the phone, too eager for bribes. But the proposal will turn out to be a leaky pipe peddled by an NGO driver, as aid never crosses the line. The dead end.

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