CHERTKOVO, Russia/ MILOVE, Ukraine (AP) — Valentina Boldyreva stepped out of her two-story house on an overcast and snowy Sunday afternoon to say hello to her 76-year-old sister who lives on the other side of Friendship of People’s Street, a tall barbed-wire fence separating them.
“You see my sister is walking up to the wire,” Boldyreva said. “How are we going to talk to each other?”
“I’m not allowed to come close,” her sister, Raisa Yakovleva, said as she stood just 100 meters (yards) away on the other side of the fence.
“Our windows are facing the barbed wire day and night as if looking out at a prison,” Boldyreva said.
But it’s not a prison camp. It’s a border fence built by Russia earlier this year, marking what was once an invisible border in a symbolic shutdown of nearly all ties between the two neighboring nations.
On a map, Milove, where Boldyreva lives, and Chertkovo, where her sister resides, are one village, crossed by the once aptly named main road, Friendship of Peoples Street. It’s a slogan that still rings true for many residents but it is being sorely tested by the animosity between their two nations, Russia and Ukraine.
Like Boldyreva and Yakoleva, almost every resident of Chertkovo and Milove has close relatives on the other side.
People speak both Russian and Ukrainian without turning the choice of language into a political statement as many have elsewhere, one of many thorny issues fueling the conflict between Ukraine and Russia since Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.
In the past, residents would routinely cross the street — back and forth between countries — as border guards looked the other way. These days, Russian border guards on one side and Ukrainian ones on the other patrol in twos or threes along the nearly deserted street, which now resembles a frontline zone.