Koval

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“They said it’d be 10 days. He’s been gone 53.” Photo by Erin Brown @_opasno for Burn Diary . . . I was sitting in a wood-paneled meeting hall in the municipal building of Koval, in Western Ukraine, watching as more than 200 wives and mothers of men who had mobilized had it out in an open-mic shouting match with their local MP, Stepan Ivakhiv.  A well-built man in an elegantly cut suit, with an open face and slide-rule sharp part, Ivakhiv is a gasoline and dairy magnate who spun the oligarch wheel in the 1990s and came out on top.  He’s a man worth over $200 million dollars representing a region where it’s not uncommon to earn a salary of $200 a month. . . . It was bold of him to agree to the meeting, and he was taking the verbal beating with more grace than I would have expected. He fielded questions from the stage, seated behind a great oak podium, with three other local officials and a member of the military, while the crowd teemed below him, jostling one another to get to the microphone. . . . This much became clear, very quickly: several hundred men from Koval and the surrounding area had been called up in the mobilization.  They’d been told they’d serve for 10 days, preparing equipment in nearby Rivne, and be sent home. Then it was extended to 45 days, and families started losing touch with the men very suddenly—only to find out they’d been sent to Donetsk to fight.  For most, the 45 days had come and gone weeks before.  Military ‘salary’ was not being paid. Men were living in abhorrent conditions.  Ivakhiv had little by way of an answer for it. . . . A young blonde with overlarge blue eyes and long acrylic nails got up: “He was in Donetsk for three weeks, and I didn’t hear a word. My little girl cried all night, ’tata! tata!’ [‘daddy’]. When I heard from him next, he said they’d only been given a liter of water to drink each day…it was over 30 degrees!” She burst into tears and begged for Ivakhiv to send her husband home. Ivakhiv looked genuinely pained, and at a complete loss. “I am so sorry,” he staggered, “I can’t.”

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