Under Fire from Ukraine and Misperceived by the West, The People of the DPR Share Their Stories

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DPR Peoples Militia Platoon Commander Ryka.  Photo | Eva Bartlett

October 16, 2019, Mint Press News

On September 2, I left the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don via minibus heading northwest to the border of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and on into Donetsk. For my first few days there, I rented an inexpensive apartment in the heart of the city. Walking on a long tree-lined and cafe-filled pedestrian walkway, life seemed normal. But I would soon find that for the people living in Donetsk, it is anything but. 

I passed a cafe where a former DPR leader and military commander, Alexander Zakharchenko, was assassinated by a remotely detonated bomb in August 2018. He was beloved, and as I stood there, two women stopped to pay respects and pray.

Memorial to former DPR leader, and a former military commander, Alexander Zakharchenko who was assassinated in 2018

Days later, at a transit hub in Donetsk, I met with Alexey Karpushev, a resident of the northern city of Gorlovka, an area hard-hit by Ukrainian bombing, and whose outskirts continue to be shelled near-daily.

A long line of mostly students extended around the corner waiting for the next available minibus to Gorlovka. After an hour of waiting, the minibus arrived and we boarded for the bumpy ride north.

Alexey deposited me at a hotel, a rambling Soviet-era structure just off a pedestrian area that during the evenings becomes crowded with families, lovers and friends strolling, and children bicycling.

In the morning he took me to a central park where a chess tournament was taking place. For the next five hours, fourteen adults and eight children played chess. A hundred meters away, an old but functioning children’s park with small amusement rides attracts more kids as the morning morphs into the afternoon.

Chess in a central Gorlovka park. Four years prior, all of Gorlovka was repeatedly targeted by Ukrainian missile fire.JPG

In the tranquility and normalcy, it was hard to believe that Gorvloka’s central areas were terrorized by Ukrainian-fired bombs just a few years prior. “Summer 2016 was last time city center was bombed,” Alexey would tell me later. “We still hear the shelling, but it’s on the outskirts. People are sniped there, too.”

Gorlovka was hardest hit in 2014, especially on July 27, when the center was rocked by Ukrainian-fired Grad and Uragan missiles from morning to evening. After the dust settled and the critically-injured had succumbed to their wounds, at least 30 were dead, including five children, Alexey tells me. The day came to be known as Bloody Sunday.

Alexsey and I walked around the city, where he showed me the Bloody Sunday sites. We passed a busy bus stop on a busy street where residents were amassed waiting for their buses. This bus stop was one of the Bloody Sunday sites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Alexey told me:

The largest number of victims happened near this bus stop. There were mainly babushkas (grandmothers) here, selling flowers and vegetables. They came under Grad strikes and they died.”

Hero Square, not far away, also came under fire: “There was mainly youth there, students. Several people died from the blasts, including the ‘Madonna of Gorlovka’, Kristina Zhuk, with her infant daughter Kira.” CONTINUE READING

Some of my travels in Crimea this August, where everyone I spoke with supported the 2014 referendum to join Russia, or as they said: return to Russia. Beautiful peninsula, visit if you can!

My article on traveling around Crimea, and what the people I was meeting had to say on life pre & post referendum was published at Mint Press News.

With additional photos on my blog.

DPR Frontline Village Resident Question to West: “Why do you support (Ukrainian) Nazis?”

 

In Krutaya Balka, a village north of Donetsk which is routinely attacked by Ukrainian forces with shelling and heavy machine gun fire, I meet a man standing outside his home, where he lives with his wife, roughly 600 metres from the front line.
 
To my question about where his home has been damaged he laughs, “Many times. Which house hasn’t been? The roof, the wall… from mortar fire and heavy machine gun fire.”
 
He replies are in line with the others I’ve spoken with: things got worse after Zelensky became president; the attacks are daily; where would he leave to? He is in favour of joining Russia.
 
“We should go to Ukraine, which damaged my house? I’m Russian, this is Russian land. Everyone who knows history knows this. Of course I want to join Russia! In earlier times, before the war, I didn’t care either way. But after all Ukraine did what it has done, absolutely I want to be a part of Russia. I can’t imagine being back in Ukraine. Anyway, most of the people here would be killed as ‘separatists’. A known Ukrainian politician (Boris Filatov) said: ‘At the beginning, give them what they want, later hang them.’

CONTINUE READING

Donbass Defender: “Those who support Ukraine should come talk with civilians, to understand how much they suffer”

North of Donetsk, I visit Krutaya Balka village, on the outskirts of Yasinovataya, another heavily hit area.

The village is divided into two parts: one part exposed on the front-line, we can’t go there, the road leading to it is under sniper fire; the other half of the village is slightly further away, and has 15 people still living there, again mostly elderly.

Just off a road prone to Ukrainian sniping, I interview Ryka, the young-looking DPR Platoon Commander who has accompanied me here.

CONTINUE READING

Return to Russia: Crimeans Tell the Real Story of the 2014 Referendum and Their Lives Since

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Crimeans gather with Russian national and Crimea flags in Sevastopol, Crimea, March 14, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko | AP

Eva Bartlett traveled to Crimea to see firsthand out how Crimeans have fared since 2014 when their country reunited with Russia, and what the referendum was really like.

October 9, 2019, Mint Press News

SIMFEROPOL, CRIMEA — In early August I traveled to Russia for the first time, partly out of interest in seeing some of the vast country with a tourist’s eyes, partly to do some journalism in the region. It also transpired that while in Moscow I was able to interview Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman of the Foreign Ministry.

High on my travel list, however, was to visit Crimea and Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) — the former a part of Russia, the latter an autonomous republic in the east of Ukraine, neither accurately depicted in Western reporting. Or at least that was my sense looking at independent journalists’ reports and those in Russian media.

Both regions are native Russian-speaking areas; both opted out of Ukraine in 2014. In the case of Crimea, joining Russia (or actually rejoining, as most I spoke to in Crimea phrased it) was something people overwhelmingly supported. In the case of the Donbass region, the turmoil of Ukraine’s Maidan coup in 2014 set things in motion for the people in the region to declare independence and form the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

In March 2014, Crimeans held a referendum during which 96 percent of voters chose to join Russia. This has been heavily disputed in Western media, with claims that Crimeans were forced to hold the referendum and claims of Russian troops on the streets “occupying” the peninsula.

Because Western media insisted the referendum was a sham held under duress, and because they bandy about the term “pro-Russian separatists” for the people of the DPR, I decided to go and speak to people in these areas to hear what they actually want and feel.

 

From the Russian mainland to the Crimean Peninsula

From St. Petersburg, where I spent a few touristy days, I booked a flight to Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, and on August 22 I landed at the attractive new airport. A Russian-American friend, Vlad, flies in from Moscow and together we rent a car and drive to Alushta, a tourist-packed seaside area to the south.

As we drive from the airport, Vlad can’t get over the changes in the airport, which had been dank and barely functional when he last visited:

When I came here at the end of 2014, Simferopol Airport was very dated: small and stuffy, low ceilings, small windows; the bathrooms didn’t work, there was a constant stench in the air, and many facilities weren’t working — even the baggage carousels didn’t work properly. There were no restaurants or cafes, and no places to rent taxis. Now, it’s a world-class international airport.”

We drive south along smooth roads, passing endless vineyards on either side, flanked by low mountains. As Vlad drives, he comments on the condition of the roads, which five years prior were so rough “you had to swerve to dodge the potholes.”
CONTINUE READING

DPR Older Couple: “the Ukrainian side shoots whenever they want; no one holds them accountable”

 

When in the Donetsk People’s Republic and visiting the Mine 6-7 area, I saw a school whose basement is now used as a shelter.

There, I met an elderly couple who have been living in that dank, stinking, basement for six years, their home destroyed.

Outside the battered school, Dmitry commented: “You see, each dot on the wall is from shrapnel. Of course there were direct hits also.” One of the direct hits is a hole in the roof of the building.

In the basement a musty stink overwhelmed.

Sitting in one corner of the paint-chipped, barebones, room, what possessions they were able to salvage piled near them, an older couple explained that their house was destroyed by two direct hits with heavy artillery, and that their only hope is to get Russian passports, that this will somehow end the war.

They agreed to talk but didn’t want to have their faces filmed.
 

“Before the ceasefire, when Ukraine would shell, the DPR military would respond and the Ukrainian side would be stop shooting for a couple of weeks, because they were afraid. Now, we are in a ceasefire, the Ukrainian side shoots whenever they want and no one holds them accountable.”

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