I interview an American Photographer in Kramatorsk about life under bombs: “The civilians are dying here and something needs to happen to stop it”

5 July 2014 — Vera Graziadei

Early this morning I call Italian writer Christian Malaparte, who’s been in Kramatorsk with American photographer Patrick Lancaster. For the last five days, they’ve been living through heavy bombing and shelling, done by the Ukrainian army. Patrick has a lot of evidence that the army is targeting civilians and civilian homes on purpose, thereby committing gross war crimes.

Vera: How are you and Christian getting on there?

Patrick: Well, there is a little bit of confusion right now. We were – about half an hour ago – woken up by the hotel staff, the one person that have been staffing the hotel,  and they told us that officially hotel is now closed, but they said we are welcome to stay as long as we want. They told us that there’s an impression in the town that later on today the Ukrainian military will be moving into the town and will take in heavy equipment.

V: So are you staying or leaving?

P: I think we are going to be staying for a while. The bombing started about five days ago. We’ve been here almost a week now. Five days ago it started in the evening. And for the last five days every day and night, the majority of time, there’s been shelling of the city. And last night there’s been really a lot of shelling between the hours of 11pm till 3am, but it sounded not quite like the days before, it sounded – i’m not really an expert on the sounds of the shells and bombs – but it sounded like it could have been a different type of ammunition, because it was a much more broader sound.

V: Oh, my God!

P: But yeah, we are going to stay here. We are actually trying to talk to the security companies here to organise us some bullet proof vests and then, once we got that organised, we are going to be going out and observing the damage and seeing if we can actually find out what’s going on.

V: Are there self-defence forces inside the city as well?

P: Yes, yes, for sure. They are in the city and they are very active this morning. We can see them walking back and forth in front of the hotel. Basically, we are in the centre of the city, in the **** Hotel (I removed the name for safety), and near the centre there are at least two different militia compounds. It’s kind of their headquarters. There are a few others throughout the city, but here are the two main ones, I believe.

It’s kind of strange, because in the last five days of the bombing and shelling, we haven’t seen a single militia compound that has actually been hit. Every building that we’ve seen been hit by the Ukrainian mortars have been civilian buildings. We personally seen at least over 40 different civilian buildings bombed, that includes a school, an orphanage – we were in an orphanage the day before yesterday that was hit – and the very many large apartment buildings, like the very big apartment buildings have been hit . Some of the apartment buildings – it’s not like the Ukrainian army miss-aimed or something like this – the same buildings when they are bombed, they hit them very hard. We spoke to one woman who said that in the night a few days ago her apartment building was hit with ten different mortars.

V: Do you think they are targeting civilian buildings on purpose?

P: Well, if they are not targeting the civilian buildings, then I can’t see how incompetent someone can be as a military force or battalion. If they are not actually targeting the civilians…They are only hitting the civilians! Then it would be children playing with the mortars. I mean, children could possibly aim better than this, because they are not hitting any military buildings, they are just hitting the civilians.

V: Are there many casualties, Patrick?

P: I know there are casualties, but we haven’t been able to get an exact number on casualties. It’s been hard to get information about that. But there have been casualties. Some of the apartment building we have gone to – there have been trails of blood. Early in the week there’s been a city bus that was hit and I believe there’s been five killed there. For sure, there’s been others killed, but I just don’t know the totals.

I think last night has been the heaviest night of shelling, so there’s probably going to be many more casualties today. And right now… the streets – I’m looking out of the window of the hotel – the streets are very full: there are four militia men, DNR men, outside right now.

V: What are they doing?

P: They just keep walking back and forth. I think they are preparing for what might happen today.

V: Are there many civilians still in the town?

P: Yes, there are definitely many civilians.

V: So how do they, and you, survive all this shelling that has been going on for almost a week?

P: When the shelling starts, everyone – a siren goes off in the city or several sirens – the people go down to their cellars and stay there until the bombing stops.

V: That’s terrible. What about food and water? How is the town doing in terms of provisions?

P: There is food and water in the markets, but I think the major problem is that most of the day, while there’s shelling, everything is closed. In the evening it’s very hard to get to the markets. But the major problem for the people here is the money. Many of the businesses are closed, so no one here has income, so they cannot afford to buy groceries, even though there might be groceries in the market.

V: Are there any humanitarian organisations at all that are helping people out?

P: The only time we’ve seen a situation like this was in the centre, the main park, where some sort of humanitarian aid was going on. They were giving baby formula to mothers with their babies’ birth certificates, to prove that they have a baby. But that’s the only aid that we’ve seen here.

And another thing is…I believe that at least half of the city is without the electricity, because the hotel that we are in is ********* (removed info for safety) and when we first came we could see the lights at night throughout the city and now one half of the city is totally black.

V: Are people free to leave, if the want to?

P: As of yesterday, I know the buses were still running and I believe they are still running this morning, but not 100% on that.

But, in an addition to civilian homes that have been hit, they are targeting the infrastructure of the town as well. Sometimes the water doesn’t work, because I believe they’ve hit some of the water pumping stations. Yesterday afternoon we went to a gas station that was hit… Actually, it was twice the day prior – once in the afternoon and once in the evening.

The vast majority of the shelling has hit civilian homes.

V: Why do you think they are targeting civilians? It’s a war crime, isn’t it?

P: Yes, it’s very puzzling. I’ve been in Ukraine for the last four months. I started in Crimea and moved to Donetsk and the whole time I was down in Donetsk, I kept hearing about these things going on, that the Ukrainian army is targeting civilians and hitting civilian homes over and over. I really didn’t believe it. I thought it was just East propaganda, but once I came here…I see these enormous apartment buildings in the centre just bombarded over and over again. I really don’t understand… May be they are trying to get the local population to not support the DNR army anymore or it’s some kind of turmoil… I really don’t understand. It just doesn’t make sense at all.

V: It doesn’t seem to be coincidental that in Slavyansk the civilian and their homes are hit too. So what is people’s mood? Are they pro-DNR or pro-Kiev?

P: As far as the normal civilians, not the DNR people, are concerned. Since the bombing started, the sentiment has gone: “What is Poroshenko doing? Why is he killing us? Why is our president murdering our people? ” And as far as the militia soldiers go, from talking to them…We’ve talked to several of them over the week we’ve been here…The number one is, when I tell them that I am from the United States – the number one thing that they try to express to me is how they are not terrorists and that they are local people, who just want to protect their home from the government, that they call the fascists, the not real government in Kiev that just wants to kill the people. And I think they have no plans of giving up. For all of them – if they give up, their family dies. That’s an idea that I’m getting from them.

V: Have you seen any Russian soldiers?

P: It would really be impossible to tell the difference. I haven’t seen any military Russian soldiers. I can’t really speculate, but you would think  – how Putin justifies his actions in Crimea, that he’s saving the Russian population from attacks and what not, you’d think since this is happening, he would move in the military, because he said he wanted to protect the Russian citizens in Crimea and there are far more Russian citizen in trouble here. People are kind of thinking: “What is he waiting for? Why isn’t the Russian government helping us?”

V: So are people waiting for Putin’s help?

P: Yes, yes. Actually people are starting to get a little bit frustrated, because they got this idea from Crimea situation, but now they’ve done a referendum here and requested to go… Some of the people feel abandoned by Vladimir Putin and some of them think that he’s being a hypocrite at this point.

V: Poor people. We are really worried about them. Is there anything else that you can tell us, which you think is important for us to know?

P: All I can talk to you about is that the civilians are dying here and something needs to happen to stop it.

V: Are you scared for your own life? We are scared for you.

P: Not right now. There’s been a few times. Over the days… like the first day the bombing started ,we were out in town… I don’t know, if you saw the video? When we were walking along and then the bombs came down, we had to really run, as they were dropping all around us. My ears were actually ringing when we got back to the hotel, because the explosions were so intense. I think some mortars were hitting 3-4 meters away from us at that point. But since it’s been every day, every night kind of thing, it’s kind of getting more normal (laughs)and we are starting to understand how to react.

V: Has anybody given you instructions on what to do during bombing?

P: No, you kind of work it out for yourself. You look at the building where the damage has been done and think “it hit there and it blew up this way, so may be if we stay this far away from windows when the bombing is happening, then we’ll probably be ok.

V: It’s shocking that you don’t have this all over the news in the West. Why do you think the media has been almost completely blocking all this information out?

P: Hmm. I think…(pause) because it’s not Russia doing the atrocities, it’s the Ukrainian government. If it was Russia doing this, it would be a whole different  story.

V: Do you send out your footage to any news channels?

P: Christian has his blog: cbmalaparte.wordpress.com and I have my news youtube channel under name Patrick Lancaster. RT has been in touch with us and we are working on trying to get our footage out to other channels, but it’s been difficult. I have many hours of video and if any company would like to contact me, they can definitely do that.

V: What’s the best way to contact you?

P: On Facebook and Twitter. My Facebook is Patrick John Lancaster. My Twitter is PLnewstoday. Christian Twitter name is @CBMalaparte

Here’s a short account and footage of Patrick and Christian, as they get caught under bombs in Kramatorsk: (WATCH IT)

BREAKING NEWS Kramatorsk city center is getting hit by mortars. The explosions started at 22:25 local time. I am here with blogger and writer Christian B. Malaparte and 10 other people, In the basement of the Kramatorsk hotel in the center. It seems like the mortars hit within 50-200 meters of the hotel. I am not sure but the hotel may have been hit. So far there has been two waves of mortars with a break in between I am not sure how long each wave lasted, it felt like an eternity. After the first wave we thought it was over and we went out to try to document what we can. We got out side and down the block a bit and then hell broke loose motors where whistling over heads, explosions, shrapnel flying about and large chunks of metal hitting the ground all around us as we ran back to the hotel basement.

Scratch that the third wave just happened it was shorter then the rest only around 5 explosions very close. so that makes somewhere between 35-45 Explosions around us. It is a shame that many innocent civilians just lost there lives I wont be sleeping tonight so first light headed out to check the damage and to the morgue. Hopefully the mortars are done for the night. 

Patrick’s other videos that document Ukrainian government’s crimes against humanity:

Apartment complex that have been heavily damaged by Ukrainian mortars

Ukrainian mortars hitting civilian homes in the city of Kramatorsk

2nd July 2014 Mortars hitting Kramatorsk

An 80 year old woman’s apartment takes a direct mortar hit

1st July Kramatorsk: destruction of civilian homes by Ukrainian mortar attack. 

1st July Kramatorsk: school hit with mutiple direct hots from Ukrainain mortars.

Kramatorsk city centre is getting shelled by mortars

Killing non-combatants (civilians) and wantonly destroying cities, towns and villages (not warranted by military necessity) during the time of war are WAR CRIMES, according to Geneva Convention, and war criminals committing such atrocities should be prosecuted at the Hague International Tribunal.

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