The coffin wobbles slowly across the bridge, four men carrying it with a fifth following along behind bearing a decorated cross. The coffin tips forward as they carefully make their way down the steep wooden staircase. It then tips backward as they make their way up the other side. Not even the dead have an easy time of it in Stanytsia Luhanska.
The destroyed bridge spanning the Donets River is symbolic of divided eastern Ukraine. The war may have come to an end, but peace hasn’t yet begun. The driving surface has collapsed, and the resulting chasm has been made navigable on foot with the help of two wooden staircases. Every day, thousands of people struggle across, primarily pensioners. The sick and the crippled are carried across, as are baby strollers and sacks full of plums and apples. It is the only crossing far and wide over a border that divides families, friendships and business partnerships.
North of the Donets flies the blue-and-yellow national flag of Ukraine, signifying territory under the control of Kiev. South of the river and on the bridge itself, a kind of Russian tricolor is flapping in the wind, with a light-blue stripe in place of white. It is the flag of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, which split off from Ukraine with the help of Russia — an unrecognized state entity that legally belongs to Ukraine but which is a de facto appendage of Russia, with 1.5 million residents, 17 ministries and a Soviet star in its coat of arms.