A dispute over grocery shopping led to an artillery strike which destroyed six houses and killed a soldier in the disputed region of Eastern Ukraine, highlighting how tense and uncomfortable the situation there has become for both locals and soldiers. With Russian soldiers massing on the border tensions are even higher now than they usually are in this troubled area. Each side accuses the other of escalating the situation and threatening more violence.
Groceries for no man’s land
The stalemate in the contested regions of eastern Ukraine has been a nightmare for civilians who are too poor or too attached to their homes to migrate elsewhere.
The opposing sides have been settled into trenches facing each other for years now. Not much actual fighting happens unless one side feels provoked but with the two sides encamped in close proximity tensions are always high.
Locals in one town are forced to walk through the entrenchments to buy groceries because their houses have wound up in the middle of a no man’s land between the lines.
When the Russian-aligned separatists unexpectedly closed a checkpoint through which residents had been travelling to buy groceries, civilians were forced to instead shop in Ukrainian territory.
They traveled over a small footbridge on a narrow river which marks the start of the territory occupied by the Ukrainian military.
Ukrainian forces then proceeded to install a larger bridge made from concrete blocks which would be accessible for vehicles and was claimed to be a means of reassuring locals that they would continue to have access to grocery shopping on the other side.
Artillery barrage misses target
Ukrainian officers stressed that the motive for the new bridge was purely humanitarian but confessed that separatists instinctively assumed that it was something less innocent.
Expecting that the Ukrainians would transport heavy weapons over the river and push towards their own lines, separatists began to fire 122-millimeter artillery rounds at the new bridge in an attempt to destroy it.
The barrage completely missed its intended target; none of the 120 shells they fired managed to hit the bridge but they did succeed in demolishing several nearby houses.
The Ukrainians responded with a drone strike which managed to hit one of the separatist howitzers and silenced the artillery, though it ultimately raised tensions even further.
Russia is very sensitive about drones being used against the separatists and Moscow has not been shy about posturing for attacks on Ukrainian territory in response.
Separatists opened their checkpoint again several days after the exchange to allow a Red Cross delivery which delivered food to the stranded locals but for civilians living in the area the entire incident is a reminder that full scale fighting could break out around their homes at any time.