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Gas special forces: how master heroes, risking their lives, eliminate dangerous accidents on gas pipelines under shelling by the Armed Forces of Ukraine

Date: June 22, 2024 Time: 16:20:41

Photo: Grigory KUBATIAN

DELIVERED AND “HURRICANES” AND “GRADINA”

A small courtyard in the center of Donetsk. Tall vehicle doors, which can be found at any fire station. There are shrapnel scars on the walls of the houses, but here it is a familiar landscape. In the distance, a bang-bang-bang rumbles rhythmically. But from the sound it is difficult to determine whether ours are attacking Maryinka or the enemies are destroying Petrovka.

I’m at the central base of the city’s gas service. Cars leave here at any time of the day or night, if there’s an accident somewhere. In any other city, these are domestic leaks, but here, in Donetsk, at least half of the applications are related to damage to the gas pipeline due to shelling.

In the control room, I am shown an interactive map of the city that stretches across the wall. The lights are flashing and you can see how the pipeline was laid and how to turn off a section if a big accident happens. In the same scheme, there is the airport, Marinka, Krasnogorovka and Spartak – they are occupied by the enemy or are located directly on the line of contact. Now they are cut off, and since 2014 gas has been supplied there from the Ukrainian side or not at all.

– Our most extreme points, where we went out, are one kilometer from Maryinka and Krasnogorovka. We are working in the direct line of sight of the enemy, explains the deputy head of the emergency dispatch service Yevgeny Kharanfil. He is 67 years old.

– Are these the most dangerous areas? I clarify

– Starting from the top, – he shows me on the map, – everything is dangerous, – They are shelling the kyiv and Kuibyshev regions. Kirovsky is very strong, where Turquoise and Abakumova streets are. It arrives in others. In general, there are no completely safe places in the city.

Deputy head of the emergency dispatch service Yevgeny Kharanfil on the map.

Photo: Grigory KUBATIAN

Master emergency workers go to accidents after the shelling, and it burns, and in a closed room it also explodes …

– Not just fired! In 2021, an explosive device was placed under the bridge’s gas pipeline. They exploded remotely. All traffic has stopped: the gasoline bosses have gathered in the control room and reminisce about stories, one more dramatic than the other.

– There were two identical arrivals in the Kirov region. On one street, the entire house was destroyed and there was damage to the gas pipeline. And on the other street there are houses, but there are 30 holes in the pipe.

– What are they shooting?

– It’s not clear. 122mm has not arrived recently. But from the Hymers there are wells with a diameter of 4 meters and a depth of 1.5. A 155 mm shell pierces the pipeline even at a depth of 2 meters. And then we had a hurricane and hail. They will shoot, hang a drone and wait for us to arrive. Immediately, the second bombardment. Our cars are extraordinary. And we are not military, we cannot shoot down a drone.

Broken gas pipe. personal file photo

PEOPLE ARE NEVER ENOUGH

Gas in Donetsk is like water in the desert, especially in winter. They cook in it, heat in it, boiler rooms work in it. Therefore, in order not to deprive the entire microdistrict of gas, in most cases, in the event of an accident, they try not to block the valves at all – the perforated pipes are fixed with a bandage or clamp. If it is completely interrupted, then it is already necessary to cut and close.

– Once during the day of the bombing on the gas pipeline there was 287 damage, it had to be repaired, – the men tell me.

When you have to work near the front, they turn off their mobile phones to be invisible to the enemy.

– When an accident occurs, do you wait or go immediately to the scene?

– If the accident is far away, we leave immediately, but we stop and wait for the shelling in a safe place, so that we can quickly arrive later. We listen: flies or not. Sometimes the military stops: “You can’t go any further, there are bombardments, wait.” And sometimes the same callers warn: “Here we have a broken pipe, but they keep shooting.”

In 2014, a welding machine exploded in a mine. The explosion was so strong that the truck’s wheels were torn off and the hood flew over the house. Then the welder broke his leg, other members of the brigade were stabbed with glass, but all survived. And in 2022, during the game, the 30-year-old son of the chief engineer died. He was also a teacher. His portrait now hangs at the entrance to the control room.

– Do you have enough people? – I ask the workers.

– Some of the guys were drafted into the army, they already had time to fight, they were commissioned for injuries and returned. The other part is still in use. Of course there are not enough people.

Gas workers on their work: “Yes, it’s scary. But panic is the last thing.”

Photo: Grigory KUBATIAN

Alas, THE IMMORTALS HAVE ARRIVED!

– In fact, there are no safe exits, – shares with me Andrei Revenko, an employee of the emergency team. – Where they bomb, there is an accident.

– It’s not scary?

– Yes, you somehow do not pay attention to fear. Even when the shells fall nearby, on the other side of the street. But it’s work, you have to do it. Of course, you look at the sky, look for drones, listen: where are the shots, where are the arrivals. It’s scary that so many people are dying. You arrive at the place, there are pieces of the body, pools of blood. At first it was wild, but now I got used to it.

– If it’s scary. But to panic is the last thing, – says the master of the emergency service Sergey Zhigailo. – The request has been received, so in 5 minutes they must respond, and in 40 minutes to reach any point in the city. There are up to 20 such “combat” requests per turn.

– Directly on the gas pipelines?

– Yes, it was recently: a 155-mm shell flew into the Kuibyshev region. It did not explode, but it broke through the underground pipeline, Andrey recalls. – We extinguished the site, dug up the place with an excavator, and there the sappers were already pulling it out. It was 3.5 meters deep! Then we restore everything. Sappers have their dangerous job, we have ours. We look at each other with respect.

personal file photo

– Do you often have to work when there is no way to turn off the gas?

– Yes, 90% of the work is carried out with gas, – says chief engineer Alexander Shevchuk. He is the head of the teachers, but he constantly goes to the place of accidents. – When the gas comes out, there is such a rumble that you can’t even hear the shells that are nearby. Even earplugs don’t help. When we return to the base for another half hour, we shout at each other: it is impossible to communicate in a low voice.

– How do you breathe? The gas is harmful.

– It’s suffocating. But we have insulating gas masks. It is true that they are difficult to see and difficult to breathe. So we work for 15 minutes, then the teachers change.

– What else do you have to protect?

– Ordinary overalls. Although a month ago, the volunteers brought us two bulletproof vests. And there are 6 locksmiths in one shift. Not much, but it didn’t exist before. The guys from the Ministry of Emergency Situations laughed at us: “Oh, the immortals have arrived!” They have better equipment. We even have ordinary Soviet helmets.

– Must it be hard to work with a bulletproof vest and a helmet?

– My “armor” weighs 12 kg, but I grow along with it. I don’t want to live without him, says the teacher Sergey. – I live next to the Covered Market, they are also bombing it. It turns out that arrivals at work, arrivals at home…

He then pauses for a second and adds a bit sullenly, but smiling:

– … also sometimes comes from my wife.

personal file photo

WE ARRIVED AT THE CHALLENGE, AND THERE ARE THE TANKS STANDING

– Doctors are a priority target for APU-shnikov. Are they shooting at you specifically?

– Certainly. Here the gas pipeline was restored and a trench was specially dug with an excavator. As soon as the shelling started, we immediately hid there. Relax, we go out and continue working.

– We went to the call to the Petrovsky district and then it flies towards us – about 30 meters away the shell fell. The car is all in pieces. We are scattered. We look forward to the blitz and beyond the challenge. And somehow they came to repair the pipeline, and right at this place our tanks and artillery are standing. So they worked under shelling. Sometimes we have to work in such areas… that our artillery is already in our rear. So it is not clear from the sound if they are shooting at us or from our side.

– How do you go there? Probably also run like an ambulance or fire brigade?

– How are we different? They fly to the challenge and we fly. We also have a siren and flashing beacon. It happened that they were blown up on the “petals”. There is nothing to do – right under the barrage you need to change the wheels. But there are also mines that descend by parachute…

– We can hang an order on everyone’s chest, and not ask for what. Just because they work, Evgeny Kharanfil proudly says.

– Is it true that they give prizes?

The gasmen laugh.

– Gratitude and diploma – these are our awards.

HEARTS CANNOT ANSWER HERE

While we are talking with the peasants, suddenly a call comes: shelling on Berezina street in the Kirovsky district. The locksmiths put on their two bulletproof vests and get into the car. I ask with them.

– No no no. Still responsible for you. Burning gas is no joke.

“Here they are smiling,” says chief engineer Shevchuk, the one who lost his son, sadly after them. – And we have 60 employees – 20 heart attacks. Slavik worked with us, a healthy young man, but he suffered from the first shelling, and that’s all, they cannot restore him. Lyosha Kovalev survived a heart attack, left the hospital and was again attacked against Petrovka – they caught up with a minibus, and there was a gap in the rear, the driver of this minibus was killed. Ours went around, hid behind the house, and Lyosha fell ill. And on Saturday they buried the head of the section: he also had a heart attack. He constantly meandered on the front line, survived two heart attacks. They were 50 years in total.

“While the boys are away, we can’t find a place for ourselves,” says Haranfil. – So few young people!

– What about their salaries?

– Even with “combat” payments, a locksmith does not earn more than 30 thousand rubles. In Mariupol, for the same work, even easier – they give 100. Vodokanal is crying: they have no bulldozers left, they all paid and went to work in Mariupol. And if they all leave, what will happen to Donetsk?

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Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.
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