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

Something is rotten in the Luhansk Republic

Infighting, assassinations, and anti-Semitic conspiracies: something is rotten in the Luhansk Republic.

On January 1, as Russians and Ukrainians were still recovering from the traditional heavy New Year’s night partying, news of the death of Batman (the alias of retired Ukrainian police captain turned separatist field commander Alexander Bednov) shook the blogosphere and media. News of his fate initially was scarce and contradictory, some claiming Bednov was still alive, others reporting his car destroyed in an ambush and the base of his eponymous “rapid response group” under siege by fellow Luhansk Republic separatist forces. Still, others blamed “Ukrainian guerrillas” and even a Russian Spetsnaz operative named Wagner (not an alias).

What we do know is that the night before his death, Bednov recorded a video where, surrounded by children (locals, apparently), he wished the people of “Novorossiya” (New Russia) peace and prosperity in the New Year. By the evening, Batman was most certainly dead – but it is still unclear how exactly he met his end.

An official communiqué by the self-declared Luhansk Republic prosecutor’s office the next day (apparently the first of its kind, or at least the first reported by the media) claimed the commander was killed while resisting arrest, allegedly for torturing locals they kept as prisoners.

Batman’s group, on the other hand, has a page on the Russian social network Vkontakte that tells quite another story. They claim Bednov’s car was struck with RPGs while on the road the morning of January 1st. Their story, supported by several prominent pro-Russian observers, suggests Batman was killed on the orders of Igor Plotnitsky, the current “elected” head of the Luhansk Republic, as part of Jewish conspiracy. According to this scenario, the “rebellious” field commanders in Luhansk are being liquidated so that the “West-Ukraine born yid” Plotnitsky can carry out a sinister and subversive plot to yield Donbas back to Ukraine.

[insert]plotnitsky[/insert]

An anti-Semitic anti-Plotnitsky cartoon posted on Batman’s Vkontakte page.

A failed state that never was

The story of the Batman’s end may just be the tip of the iceberg to the turmoil in the fragile Luhansk Republic. Since the start of the Russian-backed insurgency, Luhansk has been the smaller, poorer relative to Donetsk, run by what Buzzfeed’s Max Seddon describes as a “motley band of locals” – as opposed to the “founding fathers” of the Donetsk Republic, Muscovites Igor ‘Strelkov’ Girkin and Alexander Borodai; one an ex-Security Service agent, the other – a political expert.

Prior to his own departure, former and original Luhansk Republic chief Valery Bolotov never saw eye to eye with his Donetsk counterparts, putting the first official nail in the coffin of the New Russia project. Since his departure in August, the power vacuum still has yet to settle.

But this divide is not only relegated to insurgent leadership, but rather rooted in the composition of the grunts forming the bulk of Luhansk militants.

In one interview back in July, a Russian intelligence commander in Luhansk told the New York Times that roughly 80% of separatist insurgents in the city were ‘scrappy locals who had never seen battle’ who were also as quick to desert as they were to enlist. More recent explanations come by way of Vladimir Yefimov, a former member of the Russian Spetsnaz now organizing Russian insurgents in Ukraine via a Sverdlovsk veterans’ organization. From an organizational standpoint he readily explains that the best soldiers – those from the Special Forces and elite – are assigned to Donetsk, while neo-Cossacks and those without combat experience are relegated to Luhansk.

According to FT’s Courtney Weaver, the way the fractious Luhansk statelet is run “makes even the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic look like a slick operation”. While the Donetsk Republic maintains somewhat of a semblance of a state, propped up by Russian financial, humanitarian and military aid, Luhansk seems to be unraveling.

Separatism from separatists

At least three independent “Cossack republics” created by Russian Don Cossacks have refused to submit to the “central” authorities in Luhansk, and have since set up their own checkpoints where “cossacks in dirty old uniforms beg for cigarettes and food,” describes Pavel Kanygin, a reporter of Russia’s independent Novaya Gazeta. Deaths from starvation have been reported in towns around the occupied Luhansk region, which have yet to see any of the now infamous “Russian humanitarian aid” coming across its natural border. Canned food from Russian producers has appeared on store shelves instead.

On his way from Luhansk, Kanygin met two Russian volunteers, fleeing to Donetsk and fed up with the lack of supplies and infighting they had experienced in a unit led by Alexey Mozgovoy, one of the visibly rebellious Luhansk commanders. However, Mozgovoy’s old war comrade Igor Girkin, the man who by his own confession “pulled the trigger” of the Donbas war back in April, has now taken to urging them to take a different path. While denouncing the murder of Bednov, he warned that any infighting would be interpreted as a rebellion against the Kremlin and weaken the separatists to the Ukrainian threat, instead suggesting Russian volunteers should follow his example and leave “Novorossiya” altogether, for good.

Girkin himself returned to Moscow back in August, days before a Russian offensive turned the tide of the war in the Donbas. Himself seen as an independent figure, his exit allegedly was one of the conditions for Russian troops to enter the fighting directly. Another independent separatist commander and Girkin’s ally, Igor “the Demon” Bezler followed suit in November. Nikolay Kozistsyn, a neo-Cossack commander who’s ‘Great Don Army’ at one point claimed control of 4/5ths of occupied Luhansk, fled in December, allegedly removed over a dispute with the Luhansk Republic over control of local coal mines and shipping of their product to Russia. Pavel Gubarev, the man who led Donetsk pro-Russian protests from the very beginning in March, saw his party removed from ballots in the city’s November 2 “elections” and became victim of an alleged assassination attempt weeks prior. It’s worth noting that Bednov was similarly banned from elections in Luhansk, turning them into a Soviet one-party imitation.

Those elections apparently did serve a purpose – that of legitimizing the current leadership of the quasi-states. Pavel Kanygin in his in-depth analysis of Kremlin control over the republics suggests a plan to strengthen Kremlin control by removing “independent” separatist leaders and replacing them with Russia’s yes-men, orchestrated by one Vladislav Surkov, a sinister string-puller inside the Kremlin. Surkov, Igor Girkin arch-enemy and probably the man behind the purges, has sent his envoys to Donetsk, which has since gained some Moscow chiс – for example, oysters appearing on restaurant menus, a sight unseen even before the war.

It is unclear what Surkov’s endgame might be: whether it is restoring life in Donbas back to normal, setting up a staging point for a further Russian invasion, or eventually yielding the occupied territories back to Ukraine on some face-saving terms, remains to be seen.

One thing is certain: whatever this plan is, independent and popular separatist leaders are seen as a spanner in the works and dealt with ruthlessly, turning the authoritarian “Russian spring” to a decidedly cold winter.

By: Kirill Mikhailov & Mat Babiak

Protestants persecuted in rebel-held Luhansk

LVIV, Ukraine — Protestants and pro-Ukraine residents in the war-torn areas of eastern Ukraine are being persecuted by separatist rebels and forced to flee, says a man from the Luhansk area.

“The separatists say all Protestant churches are American spies, so there is religious oppression,” said Yurii Radchenko, 46, from the town of Zymohiria. Radchenko, a Protestant, said he was shot at twice in separate incidents but emerged unscathed.

“All the religious communities have been threatened except the Russian Orthodox. My property was taken and we have nothing,” he said. Others, including a recent report from the United Nations Human Rights Office, confirm that looting is being done by rebels and their supporters.

“That is the problem. I have lost everything in eastern Ukraine,” said Radchenko. “Those who remain undergo threats, oppression and are beaten up. That is the tragedy. If the separatists learn that people are pro-Ukraine they suffer a lot. It is like cleansing. Either you leave or you suffer.”

Yurii Radchenko says he has been shot at, his houses stolen.
Yurii Radchenko says he has been shot at, his houses stolen.

Radchenko and other Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) spoke to a reporter recently through an interpreter at a former military compound in the town of Vynnyky, east of Lviv. About 200 men, women and children are being sheltered and fed there by The Good Samaritan Protestant Church, said a Canadian, Roman Yereniuk, who is helping to fund the effort.

“Many Protestants are not tolerated by the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine,” he said. “The other two Orthodox churches have good ecumenical relations with the Protestants. Many have escaped from the east to the west.”

Some 375,000 IDPs have fled from the violence in the east and are living largely off their savings and the largesse of friends and family across Ukraine, the United Nations Human Rights Office reported Oct. 8. The report confirms that persecution is taking place.

Some of them near Lviv arrived four months ago, others more recently, said one of their leaders, Elena Pavlenko. All had similar stories of fearing for their lives as a result of either direct threats or concerns about being caught in the crossfire between Ukrainian and separatist forces.

In a recent article in Ukraine’s The Day newspaper, Mykola Siry, a senior researcher at the Koretsky Institute of State and Law, said “we are talking about systemic torture of people in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, intentional murders. It is a form of intimidation of the whole population.”

In the Middle East, ISIS is attacking and killing civilian populations because of their beliefs, and the international community is taking military action. But violence is also happening to civilians in eastern Ukraine, where the West is avoiding engagement.

For Pavlenko, fears arose when the separatists placed missile launchers beside her house. The noise was deafening, she said, and they feared being bombed by their own side. Her husband arranges the refugees’ humanitarian aid, and they have a small child. The rebels, a mix of local men resenting the centralized control of Kyiv and foreigners she said are from Russia, are shelling the airport about eight kilometers away in a bid to force out the Ukrainian forces in control.

Elena Pavlenko, a leader of the group, talks to a reporter.
Elena Pavlenko, a leader of the group, talks to a reporter.

Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatist fighters recently marked one month since the signing of a Kremlin-backed truce with one the most heated battles of the six-month war in Donetsk. Ukraine said 75 soldiers and civilians have been killed since the Sept. 5 cease-fire. President Petro Poroshenko is hoping the shaky truce, signed as part of a peace plan, will hold together for parliamentary elections Oct. 26.

Pavlenko said many soldiers have died in the fighting, noting a “massive burial site” near the airport. About 400 civilians have also died from Luhansk, to her knowledge. Most people have fled, she said, and those who remain stay inside. Thousands of IDPs have also gone to Russia.

Protestants make up about 2.4 per cent of the Ukrainian population, but Ukraine has been called the “Bible belt” of Eastern Europe and a hub of evangelical church life and missions. Most people are Ukrainian Orthodox (40 per cent), Russian Orthodox (30 per cent), or Ukrainian Greek Catholic (14 per cent). Roman Catholics account for 1.7 per cent of the population, Moslems 0.6 per cent and Jews, 0.2.

While the loss of Crimea in March appeared to reduce tensions between the Orthodox churches – one pro-Moscow prelate even denounced Putin as a “bandit” – bitter divisions remain.

Mr. Radchenko, who worked for a non-profit organization that helped drug addicts and former prison inmates, said pastors have been tortured. He gave the example of one who was injured and taken to a hospital, where separatists were also being treated. When they heard him proselytize they informed their leaders, who hauled the man from the hospital, beat him up, and left him for dead in a forest. Parishoners found him and he is recovering, Radchenko said.

That’s when he asked friends to find a place for him and his family – wife, four children and mother in law. His wife and kids arrived here four months ago, but he stayed home until mid-September.

It all began with widespread protests in Ukraine last November when former President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a trade agreement with the European Union in favor of a deal with Russia. He was forced from office in February, as most Ukrainian people support ties with the EU as essential to cleaning up a corrupt system. Ukraine is also deeply in debt, and Yanukovych was despised for lining his own pockets and those of his family and friends. But his departure displeased the Kremlin and led to armed rebellion by pro-Russian rebels in the east and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

As a 17-year-old student, Valentine, said at the monument on Maidan or Independence Square, “Russia wanted to control us, hence the fighting in the east.”

Another man who fled from the east, Vasiliy Klimov, 40, who has four daughters and a wife, said things got quickly out of hand at his home of Krasnodon.

“When the war began, local people who formed the bandit groups took weapons, from I don’t know where, and captured the police station, and it surrendered and joined them. Next these separatists blew up the customs building on the border with Russia.”

Klimov said it was frightening to go into town because the armed rebels without uniforms were openly stopping cars and people. “It was scary to say something that would provoke them. Some friends heard people scream from the cars, they heard someone shoot. That’s why we packed up and left for Crimea in June.”

But the family left Crimea Sept. 22 because “there is uncertainty in the air and some people expect the war also in Crimea,” on the Black Sea peninsula. It has Russia’s only warm-water port (which it had been leasing) and is home to its Black Sea fleet. “Crimea is wanted back by local authorities,” Klimov said, “and local Tatars (who are Moslem and more than 10 per cent of the population) are against the annexation of Crimea.”

Vasiliy Klimov with three of his daughters; they fled twice.
Vasiliy Klimov with three of his daughters; they fled twice.

Annexation happened after the March 16 referendum showed 97 per cent support for joining Russia. Even if the voting was rigged, some people say most Crimeans wanted change; others say a majority liked the status-quo. Some Ukrainian people from the Soviet era believe that under Russia their old ways would be better protected.

Like many here, Pavlenko believes the war is rooted partly in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s desire for a land route to Crimea.

Putin has said his concern is to protect ethnic Russians. He has accused Ukrainian troops of acting “like Nazis” in the conflict by targeting residential areas of towns and cities like German troops did in the former Soviet Union during the Second World War.

Propaganda comes from both sides, but much of it is from Russia. Russian military leaders have claimed on TV that only Ukrainian can be spoken in the region, when in fact Russian is freely and legally used. The UN report says propaganda and incitement to hatred are causing tensions in eastern Ukraine that could lead to the region breaking away like Crimea.

Language is a sore point. Ukrainian is the only officially recognized tongue, which tends to hamper rather than build national unity. Many people speak Russian, especially in the cities, while Ukrainian is more common in the country. The interpreter, Ievgenii Sinielnikov, a 27-year-old businessman and former PhD student from a town near Kyiv, said many use a blended Russian-Ukrainian language called “Surzhyk,” after a mix of grain.

Another problem is corruption in the legal system: bribery of judges is common.

But the key reason for regional discontent in Sinielnikov’s view is the lack of local control over taxation, spending, and other matters. While countries like Canada have empowered their regions and largely removed the grievances of those in outlying areas, many in the east resent Kyiv’s control of their lives. For them, it smacks of the Soviet Union at its worst.

The month-old ceasefire agreement addresses this concern, as greater autonomy will be granted to the rebel-held areas. But the separatist genie is out of the bottle and will be difficult to stuff back in.


Mr. Bird is touring Ukraine and area. For more about the refugee camp see teenagerfund.org.ua

Cover photo: Orthodox church overlooks a smoke filled Luhansk

Russian neo-Cossacks hold military parade near Luhansk

While today in Donetsk a rally of 1,500 individuals pining for the return of the Soviet Union was held to celebrate the 71st anniversary of “the liberation of the Donbas region from Nazi occupation,” a different kind of procession was held by swaths of neo-Cossacks in the occupied town of Perevalsk in the Luhansk region.

Here the crowds were dwarfed by the military parade put on by Don Cossacks and other Russian paramilitary types. In the video below a wide array of insurgents can be seen, ranging from obvious volunteer collaborators to obvious professional Russian soldiers.

Their flags bear the phrase “God is with Us,” – they number in the hundreds if not more.

Coinciding with Donetsk’s Soviet revivalist rally marking Nazi defeat, the timing of this similar celebration is ironic as the original Don Cossacks (along with other Russian Cossacks) acted as Nazi collaborators in the form of the 1st SS Cossack Cavalry Division. This alliance led to the forced repatriation of up to 50,000 Cossacks and their families to the Soviet Union for forced labor or execution. (Some may remember this fact as the plot point from the James Bond film Goldeneye).

The event was led by Russian neo-Cossack Nikolai Kozitsyn, a key figure behind acts of terrorism in the Ukraine who has also been implicated in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and kidnapping of OSCE observers.

Kozitsyn at the rally
Kozitsyn at the rally

Kozitsyn ironically called for autonomy from Moscow in 1997 as a matter of “historical justice.”

The parade also included a significant amount of main battle tanks and artillery. Specifically, a number of T-72B tanks, a model only used in the Russian Federation, were seen.

Is Luhansk about to be annexed by Russia?

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.

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

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. 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.

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.

[box]

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

[/box]

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.

Fighting breaks out in Luhansk, Ukrainian forces move in

By Mat Babiak

The battle for Luhansk is reportedly underway.

Ukrainian forces are closing in on Russian-backed insurgents in the city of Luhansk, Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council (RNBO) spokesman Andriy Lysenko said at a press briefing in Kyiv on Friday.

Map of Luhansk
Map of Luhansk

The head of the NGO “Right Cause,” Dmitry Snehirev whose information came from witnesses and group members, told UNIAN correspondents that street battles had broken out in Luhansk, and that the Ukrainian military took control of the regional hospital and the surrounding area. “And just within the last 2 hours of street battles are closer to the city center,” said Snehirev.

Multiple media outlets have disseminated a source in the regional state administration via Ukrainian News, stating that forces involving the National Guard had been fighting in Leninskyi district.

In addition, Obozrevatel reported a posting on the Luhansk – Our City Facebook page which cited a source in the Armed Forces, who says the situation is complicated by “terrorists shooting indiscriminately  into residential areas.” “In fact, the militants have turned the whole of Luhansk into a fortified area. It is not just the militia. On the side of the [Luhansk People’s Republic] fight professional soldiers,” reads the posting. Ostro, a local news outlet, has also compiled eyewitness reports from social media chatter but did not state independent verification.

Despite these reports an official source in the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) refused to confirm these reports to Ukrainska Pravda at this time. However, the headquarters of the Russian-backed militants in Luhansk claimed to have captured a group of National Guardsmen in a Luhansk suburb.

Earlier today a column of Russian reinforcements, witnessed by western journalists and confirmed by NATO, entered the Luhansk region as part of an ongoing stream of Russian forces and equipment over the porous border. Yesterday, leader of the Luhansk separatists Valeri Bolotov resigned from his position citing injuries sustained in battle.

[hr]Photo via Informator

Luhansk Republic leader Bolotov resigns due to injury

Self-proclaimed leader of the Luhansk People’s Republic Valeri Bolotov has resigned from his post. The news follows a similar departure from the Donetsk Republic’s militant commander Igor Girkin.

Bolotov confirmed that he was leaving due to an injury, however, his resignation coincides with Luhansk’s encirclement by Ukrainian forces. According to AFP, Ukrainian forces “completely surrounded the rebel bastion of Luhansk by cutting the last road linking the city to the Russian border.”

Bolotov's announcement
Bolotov’s announcement

“I decided to temporarily leave the post of the head of the People’s Republic of Lugansk. The consequences of my injury do not allow me to continue work from this post for the benefit of Luhansk in a difficult war,” said Bolotov. “I am from Luhansk, this is my home, and I will continue to fight for our common ideals. I am sure that our struggle will be a success,” he said.

He recommended current ‘defense minister’ Igor Plotnitsky take his place.

Bolotov, a Russian native but raised in Luhansk, was a Ukrainian citizen before taking up arms in separatism. A former Soviet soldier, he worked as a manager at a meat factory before leading a group of terrorists to seize the Security Service building in Luhansk, raiding its armoury.

Ukraine agrees on international humanitarian aid to Luhansk

Following Russia’s announcement that it would be involved with the Red Cross in delivering humanitarian aid to Ukraine, questions surfaced on whether the action was unilateral, or with international support, or if the action would simply serve as a pretext to invade the country.

The ‘humanitarian’ convoy will specifically be aid for the city of Luhansk, delivered by international agents.

It will not include soldiers, and in addition to Ukrainian approval, has the backing of U.S. President Barack Obama, AP confirmed.

“I hope that in the very nearest future this humanitarian action will take place under the authority of the Red Cross,” Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said.

“We’ve agreed on all details with the Ukrainian leadership,” Lavrov reiterated.

President Poroshenko issued a statement on his Facebook account, acknowledging the action which will include the EU, the United States, Russia, Germany and other partners:

[quote]The Donbas requires international assistance, because the terrorists deliberately destroyed the entire infrastructure of the region[/quote]

Meanwhile, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Kyiv said they did not know anything about the humanitarian convoy set to enter the country.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) then issued a statement on its website:

[box]

Due to the complex humanitarian and social situation in the Donbas, Ukraine President Poroshenko took the initiative to send to Luhansk Oblast an international humanitarian aid mission. In addition to goods, prepared by the Ukrainian side, the mission will also include an international component and, in particular, humanitarian assistance provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United States, the EU and Russia.

Admission of humanitarian goods to Ukraine will be subject to the legislation of Ukraine and international law, and subject to the measures used by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ukraine and the whole world community. Logistical support of the international humanitarian relief mission, including its delivery and distribution, will be provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Ukraine. It is important that humanitarian aid be distributed exclusively among the civilian population of Luhansk region, which for a long time suffered from the actions of illegal armed groups and terrorism.[/box]

Provallia in flames, details on Russian rocket strike

The aftermath of yesterday’s reported hail of Russian rockets into Ukraine is starting reveal itself. Further video footage posted online shows billowing clouds of smoke rising above the Ukrainian town of Provallia, Luhansk region.

While Provallia was mentioned briefly in a government report posted noon yesterday, in an update from the Ministry of Defense, it is now known that two attacks were made on the area of the town, one at 3pm and another from 7-9pm. The Grad rockets were firing on Ukrainian forces.

Street view of the video location
Street view of the video location

The video, which shows definitively that the Russian salvo struck a Ukrainian locale, has been verified for its location. Google Maps provides a Street View of the very hill at the edge of the Russian town of Gukovo where the video was taken. Closer footage of the damage has not yet been presented.

‘Grad’ rocket launchers, which translates literally to “hail,” are a weapon which relies on scorching a given area rather than hitting specific targets. Ruling on quantity of strikes over quality, the volley of unguided rockets from a Grad have been described as a “definite psychological weapon.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrxNvs2K0Ds