4 Between War and Peace: Government-controlled Donbass
I recently visited a Kiev-controlled village in Lugansk. The feeling of war is already heavy in the eastbound train, unlike the well-fed and imposing capital with only slightly scared population. All the small talk of random passengers inevitably drifts to "how is it now _on the other side_?" and "what happened when I was _there_ the last time." Whispers, wary glances, tension in choosing words and phrases. The calm detachment of those returning home and avid interest of those traveling to the Donbass for the first time since the war started. Fairly quickly the neighbors find common ground and start talking openly.
A lively granny - "welfare tripper" returns after resubmitting her pension papers "outside the ATO zone" [as is now required], migrant workers are traveling home from the capital for the holidays, a young couple of pro-Kiev aid workers with the desire to help and the naive belief that "it is still possible to fix everything, we ordinary people just have to trust each other, negotiate and then all will be well". People listen to them politely, even agree, but then sigh and look away. Bitterness in the smiles, ashes in the eyes. Mundane and aloof, and therefore particularly horrifying, stories: "My brother and his wife were hit right in their house. Forty days ago. "And to the question: "Who did it?" – look at the floor again. "Who? What a difference does it make now? ... ".
The first compartment is occupied by four Kiev “warriors” returning back to their units. Rare stubble on their young faces, loud excited speech, “Ukrop” chevrons on the camo. One has the remnants of traditional Cossack “scalplock” haircut among the growing head of hair. All pretty drunk, one already sleeping on the bare shelf, legs in dirty combat boots awkwardly crossed. Conductor tells me: "Three of them are UAF, one from a volunteer battalion. They are barely twenty years old, I ask them: "Why are you going?", and they reply: "What job can we find at home?". They board already drunk and do not sober up the whole way. First they show off, then start crying. My heart bleeds for these fools, mine is just like that – I sent him to the aunt in Kuban [Russia], away from trouble.
The warriors are rowdy all night, their combat boots stomping back and forth along the sleeping train. Several times the railroad cops come and try quiet them down, but timidly, without pressure, even in a friendly amnner.
The destination station, once quiet and provincial, bustles with activity: stores by the platform are open, despite the early hour, and camouflaged men of various ages and stages of beard formation are shopping in them. Blur of chevrons everywhere. By a tarp-covered "Ural" the soldiers that got off our train are hugging the driver, while "Okean Elzy" band is blasting from the cab about "do not give in without a fight." The two ambulances in the distance are also centers of activity - the orderlies are unloading a heavy stretcher, at the same time arguing with two officers.
Former agricultural vehicle depot is turned into a military base; the hangars are apparently barracks now. Military vehicles do not fit in the depot, so the road itself is lined with APCs, trucks and civilian-looking passenger cars casually marked with white paint. I was surprised to notice that the markings of military vehicles are the same as on many of those Kiev mass media claim to be captured or burned "terrorist-Russian" ones.
By the way, about UkroMedia. Attitude toward them ranges from indifference and contempt to violent curses. This is because, unlike the rest of the country (and LPR with DPR, where Kiev broadcasts are disabled) here all Ukrainian channels are available, but because of the proximity of the border, even an ordinary antenna provides good reception of the main Russian TV channels. Therefore, people have a great opportunity to compare the news broadcasts of both governments with the stories of refugees, relatives and neighbors working "on the other side." In most cases, UkroMedia lose the information war. A very common opinion: "At some point I just ran out of patience, could no longer to watch this manure pouring off the screen. Ukrainian journalists come, shoot and record one story, and then on air we see the picture given with the opposite description. We know that the burned vehicles were not in fact Russian, and unlike reports, where the losses are three KIA, we see two real "Urals" full of dead soldiers at the hospital. We see that there are no columns of the Russian army in our neighborhood."
Painting random things yellow-blue [national flag colors] is not as common as in the capital. Here it’s seen mainly at bus stops and benches in public places. I ask when did the explosion of random patriotic painting begin here, the answer: "Never. This was done by the city construction crews. It all began after the referendum. "
Here, many things are divided into "before" and "after" the referendum on May 11. "Everyone came out to vote then. And let them say in Kiev say that there was no referendum, and the figures are inflated - for us, it was a holiday. That’s how people went to referendums in [the end of] USSR. The square was packed with people, traveling from villages because there were no polling stations. Everybody was happy, waiting for the ballots to be delivered, and dreaming. Hoped that everything will go like in Crimea: the "polite people" will come and peacefully mediate our "divorce" with Ukraine. But instead, Nazzies came ...
Yes, yes - those "fictitious" Nazis and Bandera fans, which somehow go unnoticed by Kiev. They do not carry portraits of Hitler during the torchlight processions, they carry Bandera instead, and shout “Ukraine above all!” instead of “Deutchshland über alles». But they carefully preserved the red-and-black flag of the Third Reich («Blut-und-Boden / Blood and Soil). They love swastika, stylizing it to look like Slavic pagan symptoms, do not hesitate to pop a "Sieg Heil" and write "1488" anywhere they can.
During Maidan-2, this wild mixture formed the basis of "Maidan revolution self-defense" and now got their chance for revenge. Initially a jumble of nationalists, soccer "ultras" and rural Galycia peasants, and then clerks and students diluting all these groups, those who didn’t fit in gradually left. Soon, there were only those united by sincere hatred of the Muscovites and Putin for not letting mommy-Ukraine into EuroParadise, where dollars grow on trees. They began with taking over buildings, beating objectionable congressmen and officials. Then there was the storming of the Cabinet and the Presidential Administration, when they attacked with impunity, beating unarmed police cadets. Taking advantage of the indecisiveness of the government, which was constantly implored by all sorts of “eurodemocrats” not to touch the "peaceful protesters", they plunged the capital in such chaos that even the police were afraid to appear on the streets. At the same time, they toured around the country, arranging riots and taking over local power structures in districts, one by one. And finally, after the false flag shooting of the "heavenly hundred", staged a coup and a “cleansing” of the Parliament - which finally put an end to the idea of a unified Ukraine.
Now these militants TRAIN at army bases, form the the core of “nationalist guard” battalions and "volunteer Ukrainian corps" - the most hated in the Donbas for atrocities and terror against the civilian population, torture and execution of POWs, barbaric shelling of cities. They come here to clear "our Motherland from Muskovites" for the "master nation". Like their [Banderite] predecessors, who carried out the “Volyn massacre" [of 100,000 Polish peasants] seventy-odd years ago.
Donbas still has no monuments to Bandera, the ribbon of St. George is still a symbol of the valor of our grandfathers, and May 9th is still Victory Day, [*as opposed to the rest of Ukraine where the day Nazi Germany surrendered is a day of mourning]. In Donbass, people respect everything that has been built during USSR era, and Russian and Ukrainians are considered brothers who have nothing to fight over, just like other peoples of this land. Because they built it together, defended the land together, and then rebuilt their homeland TOGETHER. They starved and survived the difficult years together (while Western Ukraine was a part of other states). That is why the people of Donbass reject and oppose the new realities of the "Great and Pure Ukrainian Nation" together.
Here people hate Turchinov and Yatsenyuk [*commander-in-chief and PM], despise Poroshenko, can not stand even the name of Yanukovych, and hold a serious grudge against Putin for not saving Donbass like he did Crimea. And they want only one thing: for their homes not to be bombed tomorrow. "Of course, we do not want to live under the "Nazzies", but we’re scared of suffering the same fate as Stanitsa-Luganskaya, Schast’e, Popasnaya, Lysychansk and many other devastated towns and villages."
"Nazzies" does not refer to all nationalists, nor even to all of those who come here as part of the UAF units. This is a dismissive nickname for the fighters from volunteer battalions, which, compared to the hungry and poorly dressed regular army, are well-cared for by “sponsors” and volunteers. They're armed to the teeth and equipped with the latest technology, in contrast to the UAF. "Anything that they give to the army, the soldiers sell it to the militia" - a local cop tells me. “But they trust Nazzies, those are ideologically motivated. They told me they went to the training camps in organized units, straight from the Maidan, and from there directly to the Donbass to "whack Muscovites." They have tons of weapons with them when going on leave from the ATO area: ammo, grenades, grenade launchers even ... And we have almost no right to touch them, they do whatever they want. They tell us to our face: "We’ll deal with the separatists, and then deal with you, you are all traitors here." One mans a checkpoint and does not know which side will shoot him first - militia in the front or Nazzies in the back."
Another case, which clearly characterizes the relationship of Nazzies with the local population, was told to me by the same cop. A farmer comes to us: "The military seized my tractor, please return it." We tell him: "Well, you know, wartime, a special situation ..." And he says: "What special situation? The lawyer said that martial law is not declared, so this is common theft, sort it out!" Our boss went to the base of the Nazzies, came back empty-handed. They just told him to pound sand, and threatened to "start supervising police work", so that our life becomes unbearable. The tractor was eventually returned, but it looked like they went riding it through minefields.
Complete chaos. The new bosses sent from Kiev, as well as the Nazzies, keep saying just one thing: "howcome you’re so poor, there’s even nothing to rob?". “Confiscating” cars at will, robberies and kidnappings for ransom have become the norm. Snitching [to State Security] is extremely common. The Ukrainian nationalist minority, categorized by locals into "Mai-downs" (those still believing in the Maidan revolution)," Julies" (the fans of [famously corrupt] Julia Tymoshenko) and "Banderites" (natives of the Western Ukraine who resettled in the East), are reporting everyone, trying to get payback. They report on activists who helped with the referendum, militiamen and their relatives (so when people say "he’s in Moscow working" that often actually means "he’s on the other side"), just settle old scores. They’re still somehow ashamed to be personally involved in the "overthrow" of Soviet monuments, though, simply creating a hooting backdrop while visiting Nazzies are felling them.
As I came from Kiev, the reception was initially too cold and cautious, even old classmates would not dare confide. Realizing that I’m "one of ours", they wondered: "Howcome? You lived in the capital for so many years, and remained "ours", while others would go to the Maidan once and it’s as if their brains have been replaced?!" They point out one characteristic feature: the greater one’s love for “free of charge” stuff, the less resistant one is to the “Mai-down” [ideological] infection.
The attitude towards local UkroNationalists is surprisingly mellow, like to village idiots, but visiting "activists", journalists and even artists, with rare exceptions, are met with well-masked, but deep hatred. Because of their hypocrisy and duplicity. "They are sympathetic, some even cry, promise to tell everything all over Ukraine, and then go back and talk about Chechen mercenaries, Russian tanks and terrorist drug addicts [occupying Donbass]. Scum."
For completeness, here are a few first-hand stories, uncut, in first person.
"My sister lives "on the other side", we talk on the phone every day. Shelling every day. Her husband is disabled, when it begins, he stays in bed. My sister is already retired, by the time she’s done limping to the basement, the shelling already ends. So now she just stands by a wall and prays until everything calms down ... The shells fly to from the Ukrainian side, no mistake there. The militia extinguish fires together with civilians, as there aren’t enough firemen. If you believe the Ukrainian news, they bomb [civilians] and then rush to extinguish the fires?! "
"My friend went to help the militia after the death of her son. He was a doctor and some Nazzies shot him dead on the street, they didn’t like something about him. Sent her daughter-in-law and grandchildren to Krivoy Rog, went to the militia HQ and asked for any kind of work."
"Previously, I worked at the plant "on the other side." Once, a residential five-story building in the neighborhood was severely damaged by the shelling. We worked on clearing the rubble, helped rescuers. Dead people were removed from their beds, entire families. Big men wept like children. The next day, 130 workers left their jobs and joined the militia."
"They bring government soldiers to our hospital, the “heavy" ones: wounded, burnt. I’m helping them and thinking: he survived, which means he killed one of “ours”. And there is no hatred, only pity. They then thank us and do not understand why we don't want their gratitude. "
People still live. Every day, people go to work, treat the wounded, stand at checkpoints, teach children with Ukrainian textbooks, pay taxes to the Ukrainian budget. And then help “their own” as they can: send money, food and other things "to the other side", where the government left their relatives destitute and denies them the right to life. Accept refugees and share houses and food with them, go "to the other side" to bury the slain loved ones. Fear that Nazzies will come to "liberate" them one day, too. And waiting. For peace. For the Ukraine to just leave Donbass alone.
You know what they all agree on? The “separatist” majority, neutrals, and even the Ukroloyalists? Everybody - teachers, farmers, government officials and cops - say they feel that Ukraine has forgotten them and no longer considers them its own citizens. The last drops are squeezed out of the local budgets, the infrastructure is crumbling, the roads are all potholes, the businesses are failing, people leave en masse. People are gradually becoming outcasts in their own country - even if they tell the truth about life in the Donbass, most do not believe them. Many simply stopped communicating with relatives and friends in Central and Western Ukraine - those always respond "You’ve been brainwashed by Putin-TV!". "So, our nightmarish reality is only “Putin’s fiction” for you?!"
Mutual hatred is growing rapidly, with each destroyed monument, “confiscated” tractor, every man crippled by drunken soldiers. At some point, the quantity of hatred will change into quality and the fear of bombing, State Security raids and filtration camps won’t work anymore. So, [civil war] again.
But the worst thing is not even that, but the fact that the rest of the "one and indivisible Ukrainian nation" still does not understand. Understand that by helping the army with money and sending friends and relatives to kill in the Donbass, they are finishing off the dying “mommyland” that was once the rich and prosperous [Soviet] Ukraine.
Developed. Industrial. Agrarian. Holiday destination. Marine power. Scientific powerhouse. Producing spaceships. Nuclear.
They themselves prolong the reign of ghouls who for the sake of their own ambitions and greed robbed this country for more than twenty years, and now, coached by Americans and Eurodemocrats into a textbook "color" revolution, ended up massacring their own people instead of painless federalization. Every day children in the Donbas are killed by bombing, old people are dying of hunger, cities and villages are turned to ruins. And this is not a picture on TV, but the reality of living in the Donbass.
How do we reach you, the citizens of Ukraine, how do we get you to open your eyes and soul?! How to make you see that today's nightmare in the Donbass is YOUR TOMORROW? And how to make this bitter insight come before it’s too late...
Original text HERE