Starovarvarivka, Ukraine – Grief and incense filled the air. Sobs cut the hot sunshine. A hymn sung by village women scattered throughout the group of friends, family and neighbours of the Ott family seemed to pierce and envelop the gathering – sharply picking out each person and making each disappear back into the whole.
Lena Ott was killed by men wearing unmarked uniforms as she lay on the ground next to her son, after the car they had been travelling in was shot up near the strife-ridden towns of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in southeast Ukraine.
From the courtyard of her house where the village had gathered, the small home in which she had been born could be seen. Further along, through the thick green grass of the village of Starovarvarivka, across a stream and up a hill through a thicket, the brightly coloured cemetery where her son was buried stood watch next to an empty field.
From that courtyard in mourning, full of people – friends, family and neighbours – Lena’s whole world seemed to be encompassed.
Her killing last week, though only one of many in this dirty, little quasi-war, encompassed more than that. It showed how a group of relatively peaceful farmers, labourers, and shepherds living in a bucolic and forgotten corner of Ukraine could be dragged into the violence.
Whether the strength of their community can withstand the pull of revenge remains far from certain. With the killing of 11 Ukrainian soldiers at a checkpoint this week by separatists, tensions seem to be set to continue growing.