Oh, Donetsk airport, I knew you when

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Marco Werman: The international airport in nearby Donetsk has been the focus of intense fighting as well. Pro-Russian separatists have been trying to seize it for most of the past year, and last week Ukrainian government forces finally retreated from the air terminal, leaving behind a pile of smoldering rubble. Our colleague, Anastasia Gribanova of the BBC’s Ukrainian service, has been watching all this with more than a little nostalgia.


Anastasia Gribanova: The first time I flew from Donetsk airport was nearly seven years ago, but I still remember the day vividly. I remember how anxious I was pulling my suitcase up the stairs of the old, and at that time, only terminal of the city airport. To be honest, back then it wasn’t much to look at. It was a gloomy legacy of the Soviet era with poor air conditioning, no escalators, overpriced snack bars, bad toilets, and seats so old, you were afraid to lean on them in case they broke. But things changed soon after for Donetsk when Ukraine won the right to host the Euro 2012 football championship. The city transformed before your very eyes as it prepared to host guests from all over Europe. It got new roads, new buses and trams, and the new gleaming airport. I remember how ecstatic and proud everybody in Donetsk was. It was named after the renowned composer, Sergei Prokofiev, who was born in the Donetsk region. For many, the newly constructed airport was a symbol of the city’s prosperity and new opportunities. It was built to impress--a vast wall of glass at the front of the building, wide, sweeping polished concrete floors, shiny surfaces, and lights--lots of lights. Somehow, the new facility made Donetsk stand out on the Ukrainian map, changing the image of the city from Soviet and conservative, to open minded and aspiring. “I was really excited when the new terminal was built,” recalls my friend Anna from Donetsk. It added to the city and the region, and it really looked impressive with all its escalators, smoking areas, cafes, cozy armchairs. And now it’s all gone, wiped out in the recent outbreak of violence in eastern Ukraine. The glass is mostly shattered, the shiny surfaces blackened, and the concrete erupting with twisted metal. No more bustling crowds milling around the terminal, no more people casually chatting as they wait for their flights, no more children over-excited about their upcoming trip, and no more family reunions. My friend Daria says “I still can’t believe that it’s all gone, that the city is gone,” and her eyes filled with tears at these words. Of course, it’s human lives that matter, but I cannot help thinking about how little time it takes to destroy something which has been so painstakingly built.


Werman: That was the BBC’s Anastasia Gribanova sharing her thoughts on the now destroyed airport in Donetsk, Ukraine.