The origins of Donetsk separatism

Donetsk separatism only truly became a noticeable problem in 2014. Until then, almost no one believed that it existed.

Crimea was long considered the only potentially dangerous region in this regard. A certain degree of Donbas isolation was acknowledged, but this was initially written off as the result of machinations by oligarchic clans who sought to turn the local population against other regions of Ukraine and reaffirm the myth of the Donbas as the nation’s leading breadwinner.

This was partly true; these clans are still able to divide and to rule. They skilfully directed the wrath of the Donbas’ depressed mining communities against similarly disenfranchised workers from western Ukraine. While average people squabbled with each other on the Internet, the clans were quietly appropriating the Donetsk region’s industries. However, the very same Party of Regions officials from Donetsk and Luhansk who convinced their electorates that the Donbas is a “special region” with the right to occupy a dominant position in Ukraine were more often themselves the captives of stereotypes.

Donetsk separatism existed long before it was popularized by the Party of Regions. It is not about “Donetsk–Kryviy Rih Soviet Republic,” whose existence was noted only by the Bolsheviks who invented it and Donetsk native Volodymyr Kornilov, who wrote a book on it. In the USSR, the Donbas showed no discernible desire for independence. The first signs of separatism appeared in the mining regions at the end of the 1980s before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, this phenomenon was primarily economic and not national in origin.

Solidarity became the foundation of the Donetsk miners’ separatism. The popular assertion that “Donbas feeds the entire country” originated among them. The profession had been heroized in the 1920s-30s, with the mine worker portrayed by official propaganda as a true Atlas on whose shoulders rested the economic power of the whole country. And as the Donbas was a major coal mining region of the Soviet Union, its residents, of course, overflowed with a sense of self-worth. It was here that the saying “miners are the guardians of labour”was coined; it was here that the legendary Soviet miner Alexey Stakhanov set his world record; it was the Donbas that a famous Soviet poster named “the heart of Russia”.

Miners strike, Donetsk 1998
Miners strike, Donetsk 1998

Inspirational newspaper editorials about Donbas miners were common until the late 1970s when the region achieved its peak for coal production. Coal output has been decreasing ever since. After the discovery of huge oil fields in Siberia, the Soviet fuel and energy industry began switching from coal to oil and gas. Priorities and investments changed. For the next two decades, the holdings of Donbas coal mining companies remained practically unchanged, with mines continuing to operate without renovation. In the 1980s the coal industry of the Ukrainian SSR inevitably deteriorated, hitting a crisis at the end of the decade that resulted in massive strikes.

Agitators for Narodniy Rukh successfully exploited the miners’ discontent to convince the population of the Ukrainian SSR that Ukraine was the economic engine of the Soviet Union and it was dragging backward regions along. These words resonated with the miners, who were also convinced that “our backs bend while Moscow rests”. Rather than demanding regional autonomy for the Donbas, they wanted greater economic independence for the Ukrainian SSR so that money would remain in Ukraine, and pushed the Parliament to adopt a law to that effect. Thus, for these economic reasons, they voted for Ukraine’s independence in the referendum of 1991. Until recently, many patriotic Ukrainians regarded the Donbas workers’ support for independence as a sign of their increased national consciousness.However, the workers were not in fact moved by patriotism, but rather a desire to keep mining revenues closer to home.

Just two years later, the mood in the Donbas changed dramatically. Prosperity did not follow the collapse of the USSR, and the economic crisis of the late 1980s gave way to the horrors of the early 1990s. In 1993, strikes broke out once more in the region, and again the miners demanded regional autonomy—only this time from Kyiv. As in 1989, they were convinced that their hard work was simply feeding parasites, only now the subjects of their discontent were not the peoples of Central Asia and Moscow, but the residents of Kyiv and Western Ukraine. One of the organizers of the strike was Yukhym Zviahilskyi, a long-time MP, member of the Party of Regions more recently, and a red director, who skilfully manipulated the coal miners’ discontent while simultaneously convincing the authorities that he was helping to resolve the conflict. In the wake of the protests, he moved to Kyiv and was appointed the first Vice Prime Minister. As a result, the fire was gradually extinguished with his help, yet the political demands for Donbas’ regional autonomy remained unsatisfied.

However, the Donetsk elite did not abandon the idea of separatism, and continued to agitate the situation. In 1994, together with the parliamentary elections in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, an event occurred that some called a “local referendum” and others a “deliberative poll”. By law, it was not possible to conduct a referendum, so another term was officially used. The survey consisted of four items, the first of which concerned the government of Ukraine. Donbas residents were asked if they would support federation as well as granting official status to the Russian language.

This event was organized in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions by “regional advisory commissions for the deliberative polling of citizens”, which were at the command of regional deputies. The “referendum” was a pre-election move. Ukraine held both parliamentary and presidential elections in 1994, and local elections were held in the Donbas region. After the elections, the results of the “referendum” were no longer mentioned. It is difficult to say how accurate they were, but 80% voted for the federalization of the Donbas at the time.

Protesters in Luhansk against government Berkut forces, 1998
Protesters in Luhansk against government Berkut forces, 1998

Separatist slogans were once again commonplace during the many miners’ strikes in 1996-1998, but the movement never seriously took shape. Once Viktor Yanukovych had taken office as Prime Minister for the first time in 2002, the Donetsk clan ceased to play the separatism card, expecting that all of Ukraine would soon be in their hands and there was no longer any sense in blackmailing Kyiv. After Yanukovych’s career had taken off, separatist agitation declined significantly, even giving way to patriotic rhetoric. Regional elites were quite willing to love Ukraine if the country lived by Donetsk’s rules. But after the failure of the 2004 elections, Yanukovych’s regional separatism again received a major boost.

Unfortunately, all this time the central government in Kyiv failed to take measures to combat the virus of separatism in Donbas. The result of this failure became visible in the tragic events of 2014.

By: Denys Kazanskyi

Pro-Russian performers in Donetsk make Nazi salutes

Yesterday in Donetsk performers celebrating the 6 month anniversary of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” took part in a Nazi march while giving a torrent of Hitler salutes. The performers mocked Ukrainians as “Nazis” and “fascists” in Donetsk’s main square, but did so under the flag of “New Russia” while German music played in the background.

Russians enacted a similar, but much more lavish performance during a national broadcast in occupied Sevastopol earlier in the summer.

Is Luhansk about to be annexed by Russia?

[quote float=”right”]the city is full of Russian soldiers[/quote]

In a series of Tweets today, German MP and member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Marieluise Beck described the Russian occupation in Luhansk as she saw it – and the ominous signs of its potential annexation.

Occupation & infrastructure

In the messages, Beck says that the city is “full of Russian soldiers,” and that an engineering brigade has already begun the reconstruction of infrastructure, including electrical lines, to Russia.

Columns of Russian armor and thousands of troops have been seen in the region in recent days.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already called for discussions on the region’s “statehood” and Russian-installed officials have announced bilateral negotiations with Moscow  “at the highest level” over the supply of Russian gas to occupied territory via a Luhansk pipeline. Such negotiations bypassing Kyiv would confer de facto recognition of southern Luhansk as being independent from Ukraine.

“In Moscow we have discussed the issues concerning the heating season and gas. We have a separate pipeline and we were guaranteed to receive gas supplies. The pipeline comes into the Lugansk region and covers the Donetsk region. We are the only two regions that in general do not rely on Ukraine,” Leonid Baranov, the Donetsk Republic’s so-called “Minister of State Security” told Russian media.

Russian passports

Mirroring Crimea, Beck also confirms that Russian passports are already being handed out in the city, and that Russian soldiers are distributing to locals cash sums of Russian currency.

After the Russian-Georgian ceasefire, Russian-backed police in South Ossetia forced ethnic Georgians to accept Russian passports or leave, amounting to ethnic cleansing.

“Russian authorities have launched the full-scale issuing of Russian passports in Donetsk and Luhansk. It is being done to give Russia an excuse to bring in the Russian Army under the pretext of protecting Russian citizens,” said Yuriy Serhiyev, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United Nations yesterday.

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Ominous similarities

Since signing a ceasefire agreement with Georgia two weeks ago, the Russian military and its local allies have carved a substantial buffer zone around the tiny enclave. To consolidate its latest conquests, Moscow has shipped in what Georgian officials describe as “industrial batches” of passports.

“The Russians are telling everyone in the town they must take a Russian passport,” said Akhalgori shopowner Guram Chkhvidze. “One came to me and explained that if I did not take it, my safety could not be certain. I was scared, so I am leaving.”

The Telegraph, August 30, 2008

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Linguistic and religious Russification

Russification has also begun in the school system, with Beck also informing that lessons are already being conducted with Russian school textbooks; the curriculum change to that of the Russian Federation was verified by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. In Crimea, the Ukrainian language was summarily banned from schools by Russia.

“The Ukrainian church and the mosque in Luhansk have been closed. The Ukrainian-Orthodox priests had to flee,” read another tweet by the German MP observer.

Sectarian violence and religious persecution has been widespread during the conflict, with pro-Russian separatists considering Christian denominations such as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Roman Catholics, and Protestants, as anti-Russian and see them as obstacles in the path of the separatist goal of uniting the region with Russia.

Previously during the occupation and annexation of Crimea by Russian forces, Ukrainian Catholics were forced to flee the peninsula under threat of arrest and property seizures. “All my parishioners are patriotic Ukrainians who love their Crimean homeland. But Russia is now seeking to drive us out,” Father Milchakovskyi told the Catholic News Service in April. The Ukrainian Catholic Church was banned under the Moscow regime from 1946 to 1989, resulting in many clergymen arrested and Church property appropriated by the state and Russian Church.

New Russia or Novorossiya, Russia’s name for the occupied parcels of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, has already embedded in its constitution that it will act as a monolingual Russian state, with the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Orthodoxy acting as the official state religion.

What next?

This story will develop in the coming days with a Tuesday press conference already scheduled by Russian-installed officials. The ongoing ceasefire may just be the calm needed to begin the process of solidifying Russian hegemony in the region, as occurred in Georgia. It remains to be see what form of annexation will take place: be it the formal annexation of Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk, facilitating their recognition as vassal states in the model of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or unofficial recognition as Russia maintains with Transnistria.

Live on Twitter: Journalists confirm invasion has begun

Did long predicted invasion of mainland Ukraine “officially” just start? UK journalists Shaun Walker (Guardian) and Roland Oliphant (Telegraph) seem to think it has, seeing Armored Personnel Carriers with official Russian plates cross the border. Various other journalists documenting the situation have photographed columns of tanks and other heavy military vehicles heading in the direction of the border.

(last updated Aug 15, 10:45am EST)

 

“A column of armored vehicles (12 pieces) goes towards the Ukrainian border.”

This article will be updated as the situation progresses on Twitter.

Igor Girkin reported "seriously injured"

Igor “Strelkov” Girkin is seriously wounded. This is what was reported by the separatist media outlet, Novoros Inform. The short briefing cites a source in the leadership of the New Russia (‘Novorossiya’) separatist group.

“Igor Strelkov was seriously wounded. This is what was reported by a source in the leadership of New Russia. The condition of the Minister of Defence of the [Donetsk Republic] DPR – severe”, – the report says.

Self-declared Deputy Prime Minister of the Donetsk Republic, Andrei Purgin, could not directly confirm the report, but did admit that Girkin had recently been in an area of intense combat.

“I do not have accurate information. But most likely it’s true. According to my information, he was not in Donetsk, and near Shakhtarsk, Torez and Snizhne. In this area is very intense fighting,” he told Russian state media ITAR-TASS.

Denis Pushilin, who served as the ‘Prime Minister’ of the DPR before resigning and returning to Moscow, issued a video address confirming the news.

Separate DPR representatives, Vladislav Brig and Sergei Kavtaradze, issued identical statements calling the report “nonsense” in a talks with the Russian media outlets RIA Novosti and ITAR-TASS, respectively, which both labelled as an attempt at deliberate disinformation. The press office of the DPR would not confirm either. Former Ukrainian MP Oleg Tsarov also weighed in, saying he was not injured, though this was prior to the statements of Purgin and Pushilin.

This story will be updated as information develops.

Stepanivka completely destroyed by Russian 'Grad' rockets

The village of Stepanivka was completely destroyed by rocket salvos originating from beyond the Russian border, reported the press center of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO).

Stepanivka, in Donetsk oblast, is located roughly 9km from the border. Grad rockets have a launching distance of up to 40km.

According to the report, nearly 1,000 people lived in the village.

Pro-Russian insurgents openly recruit child soldiers

Donetsk militants are now recruiting child soldiers, and they’re not hiding the fact either.

This worrisome fact comes from a Russian photojournalist who recently arrived in Donetsk by train to document the situation.

The boy seen above, Andrew, is 15 and wears the uniform of the Vostok Battalion. The identity of the two masked adolescents who flank him wielding assault rifles are not known.

Andrew was recently put in a unit of reinforcements during an actual combat mission, but has so far avoided taking part in any battles. A Donetsk Republic militant says the boys have yet to be ‘baptized by fire’. Despite not being an adult, the terrorist group has already made him a commander of a training division.

Andrey feeding the magazine of his Kalashnikov assault rifle
Andrey feeding the magazine of his Kalashnikov assault rifle

The apple does not fall far from the tree, though: his parents approved of sending him off to fight the Ukrainian army, and his father is also a member of the notorious Vostok Battalion, one of the many terrorist groups to emerge in eastern Ukraine that is largely made up of Russians and Chechens.

He’s been indoctrinated to believe tropes typical of Russian propaganda. Andrew says he’ll fight to the death against what he calls “the junta” because “we have nowhere to retreat.” He believes his cause is defending against a “true genocide.”

While according to the Geneva Conventions, recruiting children over the age of 15 into an armed force is permissible under certain conditions, under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which was adopted and signed in 2002, non-state actors and guerrilla forces such as the Donetsk Republic organization are expressly forbidden from recruiting anyone under the age of 18 for any purpose.


Source
Via: UkrNews24, Obozrevatel

Strelkov still in Donetsk, but not Borodai – killed mercenaries "of the negroid race"

Contrary to reports by Obozrevatel that the two Igors, Girkin (aka “Strelkov”) and Bezler, had fled Donetsk, it appears the exodus is only half true. Girkin, currently embattled internally against Vostok Battalion commander Olexander Khodakovsky and possibly self-declared ‘Commander in Chief’ Vladimir Antyufeyev, remains in the city.

According to the BBC’s Daniel Sandford, the Russian security chief Antyufeyev admitted today that self-declared prime minister Alexander Borodai had also escaped the city to Moscow, and did not indicate if he would return. The move also shifted Antyufeyev from deputy to acting prime minister, and “Commander in Chief” – a similar title to Girkin’s, who has also engaged in a powerplay.

Partially putting questions to rest on his whereabouts, a sullen and dishevelled Girkin held a private press conference today for Russian journalists. The discussion centered mostly on battle reports, the heightening of attacks from Ukrainian forces, and continued denial of MH17 involvement, but notably mentioned that his men had killed four mercenaries operating Ukrainian tanks near the Russian border – “from the negroid race,” as he put it. In total, he says his forces have killed 165 American mercenaries, and 139 Polish.

Girkin has been known to make controversial and baseless statements, recently espousing a conspiracy theory that MH17 was full of corpses, drained of their blood, and detonated in a plot to discredit his men.

Malaysian airline shot down by 'Buk' missile system, verified in possession of pro-Russian militants

Map of the area
Map of the area
CNN map of Hrabove
CNN map of Hrabove

Following today’s tragic news that a Malaysian airliner carrying 295 passengers had crashed in eastern Ukraine, Interior Ministry advisor Anton Herashchenko stated that the plane was in fact hit by a Buk surface-to-air missile (SAM) launcher. Buk SAM systems can fire missiles up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet).

Reports indicate that the plane has crashed in the town of Hrabove, Donetsk region, which is near the occupied towns of Snizhne and city of Torez. Both locales are roughly 20km from the crash site in Hrabove.

Do Russian insurgents have access to these missile systems?

Security and Defense Council spokesperson Andriy Lysenko informed that near Snizhne a Buk SAM was seen not belonging to the Ukrainian army. The presence of a Buk-type SAM in the town was verified by Associated Press journalists earlier Thursday.

Russian terrorist Igor “Strelkov” Girkin admitted that they had shot down a plane today over the city of Torez, but have claimed it to be a similarly large Antonov An-26 transport aircraft.

[quote style=”boxed”]”In the vicinity of Torez, we just downed a plane, an AN-26. It is lying somewhere in the Progress Mine. We have issued warnings not to fly in our airspace. We have video confirming. The bird fell on a waste heap. Residential areas were not hit. Civilians were not injured,” he was quoted.[/quote]

While Girkin issued a statement saying that they shot down the “transport aircraft,” he later denied having weaponry to take down the Boeing 777 at that altitude.

Despite denials to the contrary, on June 29 press service representatives of Girkin’s “Donetsk People’s Republic” organization told Russia’s ITAR-TASS that they had “taken control” of multiple Buk missile defense systems.

The U.S. Department of State has said this week that more advanced air defense systems are beginning to arrive to deployment sites which have then been transferring equipment from Russia to its proxies in Ukraine. Also, the DoS notes that Russian insurgents have been actively looking to recruit volunteers with experience operating heavy weapons such as air defenses.

Taken together, it appears abundantly clear that insurgents have access to, and use Buk SAMs and have openly admitted to engaging aircraft with them.

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'Strelkov' apologizes for Donetsk looting

Military commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Russian operative Igor “Strelkov” Girkin has made a public plea to the people of Donetsk, calling to ‘severely punish’ his men for committing “serious crimes and banditry” in an attempt to save face following the city’s increased occupation by his militia.

“I ask the people of Donetsk for understanding of what people arrived here, who for months lived in a state of stress and deadly threat. Not all of the men were prepared to enter a peaceful city after being in the trenches,” he said.

[quote]”Perpetrators of such crimes will immediately be court martialed, regardless of their relationship to the militia.”[/quote]

In a separate interview, he suggested that increasing wages and compensation for militiamen would increase local enlistment. He had previously made public statements decrying a lack of local support in the Donetsk area.

After retreating en masse from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk and ceding the key cities to Ukrainian forces, Strelkov’s militia took up positions in Donetsk, the region’s largest city and capital. Looting had already been a problem in the past for Donetsk, with members of the Vostok Battalion from Russia seizing the Regional State Administration building and detaining offenders from the Donbass People’s Militia.

‘Strelkov’ has been described by Ukraine’s security service as a Russian colonel and resident of Moscow. He is currently a target of European Union sanctions, and was named by the EU’s Official Journal to be on the staff of the Russian foreign military intelligence agency (GRU), and a key figure involved in the military takeover of Crimea as an assistant on security matters to Sergei Aksyonov, Crimea’s self-declared prime minister.

The Donetsk Republic remains legally classified as a terrorist organization in Ukraine.