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Déjà vu for Ukrainian grandpa displaced by war


Déjà vu for Ukrainian grandpa displaced by war

From his hospital bed, a Ukrainian man tells UNHCR his boyhood began in war and, to his distress, his old age is also dominated by conflict.
18 December 2014
Victor Marchenko, 77, a Ukrainian man injuried in recent fighting in the east of the country, lies in bed in Mechnikov Hospital Dnipropetrovsk as his wife of 49 years, Marina, looks on. Displaced by the fighting, the couple hope to go back home in time to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary next year.

DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine, December 17 (UNHCR) - As a boy during World War Two, Victor Dmitriyevich Marchenko hid from German soldiers in the cornfields of central Ukraine. He never imagined he'd have to take to the fields again at the age of 77 to save his life as shells rained around him.

"I never thought such a thing could happen, brothers fighting each other, brothers killing each other," he says from his hospital bed, nursing a huge wound in his left thigh. "I can't understand. Why would I kill a person? Why would they kill me?"

He had left his home near the Donetsk airport - the scene of intense fighting between the Ukrainian government military and anti-government forces in late September and October - to get water for his wife, daughter and granddaughter. Without electricity, there was no running water at home.

"There was mortar firing and I heard explosions," says the grey-haired man, one of 542,000 people displaced within Ukraine, including 54,000 in the Dnipropetrovsk region. "There were parts of different people everywhere. I saw blood coming out of my body."

His 20-year-old grandson took him to a local hospital where doctors removed shrapnel from his right hand and put a cast on his leg. The grandson then bundled Victor into a car and - weaving through fields to avoid shelling - drove him six hours to the industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine.

Surgeons at Mechnikov Hospital, a proud institution that traces its history back to 1798, say the fighting that has convulsed the region since April has made them experts at trauma surgery, able to put soldiers and civilians back on their feet when all hope seems lost.

Yuri Skrebets, Mechnikov's deputy chief doctor, claims a 99 per cent survival rate for wounded soldiers and civilians, an achievement he says is "unique for Ukrainian hospitals."

As his wife Marina looks on, Victor recalls how as a boy during World War Two he lived near a school that was occupied by German troops, and was rescued from being burned alive by retreating soldiers.

Over the course of a long life that has taken him from the war and Soviet liberation through the break-up of the Soviet Union to Ukrainian independence, Victor is mystified to be confronted by conflict again.

"There are lots of bombs and explosions and for what?" he asks. "Why do I deserve such a war at my age? What is this war for?"

UNHCR is helping displaced people like Victor and his wife throughout Ukraine with emergency cash grants, repairs to collective centres, winter clothing, blankets, food and other humanitarian aid.

After a month in hospital, with his leg wound still healing, Victor's hope is to be able to walk normally again and to return to his own home - free of fighting.

He and Marina - who stands steadfastly by his bedside - have been married for 49 years. "We will soon celebrate our golden anniversary," he says with a smile. "We have to celebrate at home."

By Kitty McKinsey in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine