This two-man street band has become a sensation in the rebel city of Donetsk, in East Ukraine. It consists of Nikolay Gladkov, now 75, the drummer, and Anatoly Bukhtiarov, 77, with the accordion. They are actually childhood friends, and have played together for many, many years, decades. Before the war, they were already a fixture playing, since 2012, outside the city's newly built (for Euro 2012) Donbass Arena soccer stadium
They then named their band "Donbass Arena".
They witnessed all of it.
After Crimea left Ukraine, they would see mobs of pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian nationalist demonstrators on the streets of Donetsk.
They would see the enraged pro-Russian youths outnumber and beat the pro-Ukraine people, with local police unable or, perhaps, unwilling, to stop them
and then even the police overwhelmed
rioters setting police stations on fire
all hell breaking loose in their home town...
The two old fogeys kept the music running, through all that.
Even when things got real scary, when, in many areas of Donetsk, utter chaos and lawlessness reigned, new rebel militias were little more than criminal gangs, who acquired bigger and mightier weapons than they ever had access to, and a new boldness, with no police or anyone to stop them
people were openly looting the supermarkets, like the Metro
just coming in and carting away loads of whatever they wanted
staff, if any remained, not daring to confront them; one woman, in a video I saw, when some employees at a shop attempted to stop her from taking expensive bottles of champagne, told them her husband and brother were both in a militia and would come and kill them all later... that was the atmosphere back then, in 2014.
Add to that the battles raging all around the region, including on the very outskirts of the city, the shelling of the city by the Ukrainian forces.
Here, some local kids with a kind of shell the Ukrops were dropping around Donetsk back then
The old musicians, now affectionately referred to by locals as their "Rocking Grandpas", played on, through all that, they moved around the town, neighborhood to neighborhood, helping maintain the morale of the people. They played, one time, in a crammed bomb shelter, entertaining kids of a whole bunch of families all stuck in there for a night of ferocious enemy shelling above. Anatoly was injured himself, during one shelling attack on the city. But he joined his old buddy Nikolay for yet another jam right after being bandaged at a field hospital!
Things have changed now.
Alexander Zakharchenko, the separatist DNR leader, has consolidated power in Donetsk in his hands
He has created a heavily armed police
and the now much feared MGB secret service
to bring order to his territory, eliminate his potential rivals, as well as combat Ukrainian espionage and sabotage.
Many gangs and armed groups who had refused to abide by Zakharchenko's authority have been forcibly disarmed, arrested, plenty - simply killed, slaughtered.
Looting began, in 2015, after Zakharchenko took over, to be punished harshly. I am talking death penalty. I've seen vids of firing squads executing people for looting, I am not joking.
The separatist military, well supported and supplied by the Russians
have beaten the Ukrainians back, and pushed them well away from Donetsk and other important areas.
Peace has, more or less, returned to Donetsk.
The Rocking Grandpas are still there too, still rocking
Here they are back in October: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMU9RdNE1mw
To many Donetskians, they are heroes. And I agree too.
They could have got out of there, long ago.
Every month, every week, every day, there were evacuation buses leaving Donetsk, full of refugees, East to Russia or West to Ukraine, with special preference for women and children
and also the elderly, like the guys above.
Perhaps a million people fled each way.
But these old rockers stayed and continued to try to cheer up their people in Donetsk. My hat is off to them. Eternally. They deserve some kind of an award...