What is happening in eastern Ukraine?
Pro Russian East
The east has always been more pro-Russian than the west and centre of Ukraine – most of the people speak Russian instead of Ukrainian.
In the Donbas region there are many coal mines with thousands of workers that have been there for generations, their demands are quite low – they want salaries to be paid in time and a stable situation in the country. They are not much concerned about human rights and other high values. Such types of people are not all who live in the east but make up the majority.
Our former president, Yanukovych, was born and grew up in such societies, and later was elected mostly with the votes of eastern Ukrainians. Yanukovych did not manage to solve the economic problems of the region, and this is why during his election campaigns he concentrated on political questions, which divided the country. One of the questions he asked was, ‘which language should be official in Ukraine: Ukrainian or both Ukrainian & Russian.’ He promised his electorate to adopt the Russian language as one of state languages in Ukraine and the east voted for him (due to these policies) despite the severe economic problems in the region. Another question he asked of the electorate, which divided the country, ‘which vector should we follow. Towards Russia or the west.’ Russian propaganda is very strong in this question.
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In Russia and in eastern Ukraine it’s very popular celebrate World War Two holidays like victory days (when the USSR defeated Hitler), the same goes for Labour Day and other holidays from the USSR. More than 60 years has passed yet Russia continues to celebrate past wars and warns of a danger that might come from Europe (like a second Hitler!?) and from USA (another Cold War).
Russia keeps publishing media interviews of old grannies that speak of how they fought in WW2 against the Nazi’s. Most of these people have already died, and they are just actors who play their roles telling stories from the past.
There were photos on the Internet of one granny who was in one uniform with medals telling one story and next year the same lady was wearing another uniform with different medals and telling a different story.
It shows how Russian propaganda works: they cannot create a new ideology, which can unite a nation so they reanimate the old one, focusing on the past successes of the USSR. Even WW2 in Russia is called the “big protecting war” which means that the USSR was not an aggressor, and it only tried to defend its borders. We know that’s not true. Putin says that Stalin was a good leader and we have to recognise it, but we all know that there’s not a big difference between Hitler and Stalin, as we can presume, that Hitler also was a good Leader (in some ways) but it does not excuse him.
Why do I take such umbrage with this issue? Because many eastern Ukrainians still believe in all this USSR bullshit. Yanukovych and his team used Russian ideological tools to keep his voters in the dark and afraid of a new Nazi boogyman who might come to hunt them. All this time Russia has been pumping propaganda in a Fascist language.
The media and some eastern oriented Ukrainian politicians (as well as Russian politicians) say that if you are Russian speaking and travel to the west or centre of Ukraine and speak Russian, you will be offended, beaten or even killed. To prove such lies they show (in the media) murder victims and say the deaths were caused by speaking Russian in a pro-Ukrainian area. Of course this is total bullshit, yet people believe in this lie.
Only 5% of eastern Ukrainians have travelled at least once abroad, with 95% having never left Ukrainian borders! All of the information about the outside world they get from TV, which is totally controlled by pro-Russian politicians. The more progressive (younger generations) use the Internet and understand the ‘real’ news but they are in the minority.
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The Nazi’s are coming?!
With all that happened after the Ukrainian revolution, Russian TV channels started to say that neo Nazi’s have power in Kyiv (Kiev) and are ruling the country, and soon will come to the east and Crimea to establish their own order. That new power will forbid people to speak Russian, ban celebrations of soviet holidays, and will move Ukraine to Europe where gays are ruling (yes, Russia uses homosexuality as a propaganda tool). They also lie that there will be an adopted law to allow gay marriages in Ukraine and adoptions of Ukrainian children by gay couples. So much of this disinformation and stupid information from TV is pumped into the heads of Ukrainians on a daily basis, of which the ignorant majority in the east believe.
When you mention another, truthful version, like what is available from alternative media with unbiased news, people do not want to believe it due to the brainwashing propaganda they are used to from TV channels such as the Russian first channel, and Russia24.
After occupying Crimea, Russia wanted to create unrest in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Odesa and other large cites in the east and south of Ukraine. The protests they launched were not massive. Protesters occupied administrative buildings but were surrounded by police and resigned. It seemed that Russia did not manage to make the same scenario in the east, like in Crimea.
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Two weeks later Russia changed its tactics and organised new protests – not with civilians but with armed Russian soldiers who were dressed like self-defense forces. The same ‘green men’ as were in Crimea. These people together with radical locals started to occupy police offices, city administrations and other official buildings in small towns in eastern Ukraine. They worked simultaneously and police did not manage to catch-all of them. Even more, they were armed and fights started between police and armed protesters. Some were killed. Recently there was a shooting next to military base in Mariupol (a city on the Azov Sea cost). Protestors wanted occupy military base and entered the territory. Some people were killed by the army.
Recently Yankuvych gave a press conference in Russia to proclaim a civil war has now stated in Ukraine; the Nazi’s are coming to the east and Russia must stop them to protect Russian-speaking citizens. He means that the Russian army has to be moved in the sovereign territory of Ukraine. The real war has started.
Officially, the ‘protesters’ are demanding federalisation of eastern region – they want to have a referendum to define a status of their region (like what happened in Crimea). We know what it means. The referendum in Crimea was a complete farce, controlled by the Russians.
Putin wants the whole east of Ukraine to be separated, although he says he wants peace, the Russian solders on Ukrainian soil say otherwise. He has likely promised to Yanukovych that he will return as President to rule the eastern provinces of Ukraine. Crimea will be like a present to Russia for their efforts, the east and south of Ukraine will be a new region, lost to Russia.
Ukrainians in the centre and west are optimistic, as their situation is stabilising, and they are finally seeing a democratic process unfold. Yet with the east shifting back to Autocratic Russian rule, the same could not be said for the eastern regions. The United States. the European Union and NATO are seemingly working towards a solution with Putin: with a compromise, peace is possible, unlike what happened in Georgia, but the map of Ukraine will be smaller.
Oleksandr Ruzhytskyi is a FLINT correspondent, based in Kiev, Ukraine.