June 2, 2023
Anna Novikova has been living in France for more than ten years.

Anna Novikova has been living in France for more than ten years.

Photo: Dmitry STESHIN

The journey to Donbass from the very south of France took almost two weeks. On the way, the Europeans replenished the cargo, as a result, 7 tons of gifts were received from the citizens of France, Germany, Spain, and Belgium. Medical beds, hygiene products, bicycles, clothes, shoes, bandages, medicines and just food. It can be seen that the cargo is “combined”, all packages are of different sizes. The driver, Mark Boke, personally delivers from the back of the box, as he later noted – “I wanted to finish everything to the end, I’m so used to it.” Even the Donetsk military, who accompanied the truck from the administrative border, joined the loading. Anna Novikova, the organizer of the mission, was delicately removed from unloading. I approach her. The girl has been living in France for more than a decade, and sometimes, on the verge of perception, her accent slips through. I ask a provocative and leading question:

– How did it happen to you? It is generally accepted that only in Ukraine live offended and needy…

And what Anna says, I have already heard once, in a conversation with the French volunteer Erwan Castel (see “KP”), who came to fight in the Donbass from the jungles of Guiana. A person did not believe in official propaganda and, sitting in the tropical jungle, was able to find sources of reliable information; in the era of the Internet, this can be done in two clicks. Anna tells a very similar story:

– Do you see the farmer unloading the car? He has been following the situation in Donbass since 2014 and called our organization SOS Donbass himself and offered to help – he says I have a truck, I can take everything. We were not ready for this, we were surprised. And then completely different people began to call and write to us, from different countries, although we had just opened, no one knew about us. Everyone asked – well, when are you going?

“I honestly don’t understand how you got there?” How?

Yes, they scared us too.

– You are not afraid that there will be problems? I have a friend, German journalist Anna Lipp, she has been living in Donetsk for several years. So in Germany, her family started having problems, their accounts were arrested …

Anna laughs:

– We have already held seven demonstrations against the armament of Ukraine. In Paris and other major cities, near arms factories. Our last demonstration was in Brussels, opposite the NATO headquarters. Until they touch what will happen when I return, I don’t know.

harsh meeting

Problems arose in the mission where they were not expected at all. That is, at the Russian customs. Not in Lithuanian or Latvian, not in Polish, in ours, you understand? Me not. At the Estonian customs, on the contrary, they helped. It can be seen how Anna is overwhelmed with emotional memories:

– The Estonians told me this – to clear the humanitarian cargo to Russia? Excluded, the eleventh package of sanctions! I sat down with a woman declarant and asked directly – what can be done? She suggested a move: “if you were carrying cargo to Ukraine” … We found a man from Luhansk who had a fund in Ukraine. He gave us all the data of the fund, and we issued a declaration. But, in parting, we were told: “we are not sure that you will pass the Russian customs.” But I was still happy – they came home! Got there!

It can be assumed that the human factor intervened in the customs clearance of humanitarian cargo. According to Anna, the first shift of customs officers was “good”. Of course, some documents were missing, but the customs officers offered to call at the site, “and we’ll decide everything there.” In the morning, the new shift turned out to be completely different people. I feel Anna’s bewilderment:

– They really wanted us to return back to Estonia, I had a feeling that they were specially sent. We called everywhere, got to the very top and at one in the morning, we were told that it was possible to process the cargo. By 11 am everything was done. And then back in Moscow they sat at customs, but it was already easier there.

Some guy was standing next to Anna for part of the conversation, I thought – a mission officer and did not immediately understand that he did not have one arm up to his shoulder, but instead of the second arm he had a prosthesis and you could hear how the servos were working in it. Artilleryman Yura, who fired from the Rapier, was wounded a year ago, and fought from the very beginning of the Donbas uprising. Anna helped him make a prosthesis, but not a simple one – high-tech, new generation. Yura says that he was also wounded in the leg, but the leg has healed, he walks, he himself came to meet humanitarian workers from distant France.

Eyes against ears

Mark Boke, a farmer and horse breeder, from afar, looked like a Donetsk militiaman of the first wave – washed out camouflage with indistinguishable, worn stripes, but a clean St. George ribbon on his chest. Outwardly, it looks like the old, beloved by all French actors – and at all at once. Most likely this is what in anthropology and genetics is called the “phenotype”.

– We are close peoples, – Mark told me, – close both culturally and spiritually. No, my relatives did not condemn me, they even helped with donations for humanitarian aid. You see, my ancestors experienced something similar several centuries ago in the Vendée*. Their uprising was crushed, deprived of land and native language. And this happened both on the maternal and paternal lines. Their fates are similar to the fates of people from Donbass.

For Russia, the resentment of the 18th century sounds strange. But, France, it was in the first revolution that it exhausted the limit for shock. Mark is from the south of France, most likely from the area where the Vendée was – the world’s first peasant republic. But didn’t something similar happen in the Donbass? Mark found historical analogies for himself and honored the memory of his ancestors with a good deed. In parting, Mark said that when he returned to France, he would tell what he saw in the Donbass. He understands that problems await him:

– But I prefer to believe my eyes, not my ears. Because I have my own convictions, and they need to be defended otherwise they are worthless.

* Vendée is one of the departments of post-revolutionary France. In March 1793 the department revolted. The rebellion was officially called “royalist”, but it was led by a forester and carriage master, who are difficult to write down as representatives of the overthrown French aristocracy. Although the units of the Vendeans were called the “Royal Catholic Army”, the main participants are impoverished peasants who did not receive a single piece of land from the revolution. The rebellion was suppressed by revolutionary troops with fantastic cruelty, according to a special decree “Vendee must become a cemetery.” And for several more years, there were purges of dissidents.

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