Tuesday, September 22 at 8pm on ABC
Tonight Foreign Correspondent on ABCTV will focus on "the war the world forgot." At Europe’s side door nearly 8000 people have been killed and 1.5 million have fled their homes. Correspondent Matt Brown reports from devastated eastern Ukraine.
Russell Bentley is a swaggering American nicknamed “Tex” – an avowed communist and convicted drug smuggler who no longer calls America home.
“If I go back, I go back armed,” he declares. “We’re here defending Russia.”
Tex is one of a motley band of foreigners who have buddied up with Russian-backed rebels fighting in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.
Tex’s base Donetsk was home to a million people but most have fled since pro-Russian separatists wrested control last year. Its streets are eerily quiet. There’s supposed to be a ceasefire, but for months the night skies of the city’s outskirts have lit up with bursts of shelling between the rebels and Ukraine government forces.
At the local football stadium, Anastasia helps to distribute food aid. Her 17-year-old daughter was killed by a government rocket strike. “We’ve been left with nothing, only a pain in our hearts,” Anastasia tells reporter Matt Brown.
Igor was maimed by shrapnel. Asked what he wants to do to the people who hurt him, his reply is visceral: “I’d like to have them cut into pieces, and let their corpses lie in the dirt for the dogs to eat.” This from the mouth of a 12-year-old boy.
Emblematic of this conflict is the village of Nikishina, just a short hike from the fields where flight MH-17 was shot down last year, killing 298 people including 38 from Australia. Nikishina is a bombed out ghost town. The few remaining residents are mostly old folk who have been left by relatives to fend on their own.
Amid this bleakness humanity shines. Nurse Svetlana hasn’t been paid in a year but she has stayed behind to tend to the sick every day. Young journalism student Olga shuttles in and out with medicines and is trying to rebuild the shattered school.
“Nikishina is like a wounded child,” says Olga, “and it needs help.”
For now, neither side in this war is taking responsibility for the destruction so it’s up to individuals like Olga to do what little they can. But will anyone heed her plea: “I want to say, ‘hey stop, please! We know you can destroy everything – but can you rebuild?’”
And what is the end game? Will this land stay part of Ukraine or move towards independence or be completely swallowed by Russia? Matt Brown explores The Republic of Nowhere – Foreign Correspondent 8 pm Tuesday September 22, ABC TV.