Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Ukraine: Dispatches From the Eastern Front

Chronicle of events on April 15-16, 2014.

The events of the last two days in Donetsk region clearly demonstrate that the separatists who use tricolours and the mythical “Donetsk People’s Republic” as cover have no interest either in holding any kind of referendum or in decentralising power in Ukraine. They have just one objective, to sow disarray among the Ukrainian authorities and derail the presidential election.

To set things out in order, the number of “peaceful demonstrators” outside the Donetsk regional administration vacillated between 50 and 200 over the course of the working day both today [March 16] and yesterday. They are mostly elderly people. There are roughly about the same number, if not more, of onlookers and journalists around October Square, where the administration’s building is located. It is hard to say how many terrorists there are inside the Donetsk regional administration. Some media reports put the figure as high as 500.

It is worth noting that since yesterday, a group of about 50 young people aged 20 to 25 has been gathered in the vicinity of Donetsk regional administration, towards Bogdan Khmelnitsky Street. The fact that they cluster together, do not mix with others and are taking orders from somewhere else indicates that they are not peaceful demonstrators, but some kind of highly organised unit. Their distinguishing mark is a green ribbon around their sleeves. They do not talk to outsiders and react very aggressively when asked who they are and where they are from.

Also today, armed “little green men” seized Donetsk city council buildings. They were clearly fighters, not peaceful protesters. Their weapons-handling shows that they are professional soldiers, not people who have just been given a rifle to hold. In addition, the arms they are carrying – our correspondent saw five of these men in the city council’s hall – are brand-new, and are obviously not weapons taken from the gunrooms of the Interior Ministry [police] and Ukrainian Security Service offices that have been captured. One of them had a pistol in a holster strapped to his right leg – a device only used by spetsnaz forces, never by district- and municipal-level police or security service men.

Officers of the Donetsk police were on the city council premises from the outset, but showed no desire or intention to disarm the armed terrorists. The police are still there. It remains unclear what the terrorists’ demands are; they have not issued any kind of clear, coherent demands. At 13:00 today, there was supposed to have been a session of the city councillors to examine these non-existent demands, but that does not seem to have happened. The city council is due to meet on Friday, and it is unclear whether that will happen at gunpoint.

Despite all this, life carries on the city of Donetsk as peacefully as normally, and public services are all working. This has clearly irked the separatists. Realising that there was going to be no popular support for the Donetsk People’s Republic, the fighters set about mass actions to undermine the institutions of government.

Another reason is that the mayors of all the towns in Donetsk region met yesterday and voiced unanimous support for Ukrainian unity. Nor does decentralisation hold any appeal for these local leaders. They know better than anyone else that Donetsk region is the most heavily subsidised in Ukraine. Decentralisation would mean that budgets would be created from the ground up, from the districts to the regions and then up to state level. This would leave Donetsk region bankrupt, and hundreds of thousands of miners and their families with no jobs and no pay.

The miners obviously understand that fact, just like the vast majority of people in Donetsk region, so they do not support the illusory ideas of a referendum or federalisation. Hence the terrorists have resorted to tactics of aggressive intimidation of the population and disruption of the work of the institutions of state. Their ultimate aim is to derail the presidential election set for May 25. Then Russia can, in habitual deceitful and confident manner, tell the international community that the Ukrainian elections were chaotic and held at gunpoint – it matters not whether it’s the guns of terrorists or the Ukrainian security services – so the entire system of power in Ukraine is thus illegitimate.

The fact that the self-proclaimed leaders in the southeast have announced plans to seize airports, railway stations, National Bank branches and other parts of the state infrastructure indicates that these disruptive activities will increase in the coming days unless Ukraine starts deploying its military arsenal.

A series of mass meetings have taken place in Donetsk region over the past 24 hours, in the towns of Donetsk, Mariupol, Slavyansk, Amvrosievka, Selidovo and Novogrodovka. They were attended by a total of around 800 people, and about 70 police officers were deployed to keep public order.

Right now, the situation across Donetsk region is as follows. The Donetsk regional administration building is still occupied; the municipal buildings of the police and Ukrainian Security Service in Slavyansk are under occupation, and seven checkpoints manned by persons unknown have been set up there; the police HQ in Kramatorsk has been cleared and it is functioning normally, but the airport and the Ukrainian Security Service office are still occupied, and two checkpoints have been set up. The police HQ in Gorlovka is still occupied but the municipal administration is functioning as normal; that town has two checkpoints. The municipal government building in Mariupol remains under occupation.

All other local institutions in the region are functioning normally and the police are investigating offences reported by members of the public.

This article republished from Novosti Donbassa with kind permission.

Original article in Russian.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of IWPR.