I’ve had concern expressed to me over the fact that our prior visit to Ukraine did not include the present zone of excitement nor are we there now… I’m afraid our prior visit was well before any of the recent turmoil started and we can’t be everywhere at once, but, fear not, faithful readers as we have a representative on the ground in the Donetsk People’s Republic.
In order not to cause any problems for him, we’ll simple refer to him as “Emir”.
The separatists are, not surprisingly, opposed to having pictures of their locations and activities taken. As such, our correspondent has to improvise to get these images to us. What he does is to hold his phone up to his ear and pretend to be engaged in a conversation, while doing the best he can with his camera phone to snap off some pictures. Obviously, it is difficult to take precise pictures when the camera is up to one’s ear, but as Emir apologetically explains:
I managed to take some pics of one of the three separatist road blocks going into Donetsk from Makiivka, but they’re not very good. Primarily because the bus was too far away from them and my fake blackberry only has (fake) digital zoom, not a real optical based zoom and I was on the wrong side of the bus to take closer pics of the guys with Kalashnikovs as the bus was full so we had to take seats on the ‘wrong side’…. Also with the “pretending to make a call” technique it’s not possible to zoom in as I had to set the phone to take continuous shots.
Given the risk he is taking of being accused of being a spy, I don’t believe an apologetic tone is necessary, but I absolutely respect his dedication to producing the best images that he can.
Recent advances by the Ukrainian military have pushed the separatists out of the city of Sloviansk and the surrounding countryside. Further, the region of Luhansk (Lugansk) which is the home of the Lugansk People’s Republic is currently under heavy military pressure from Ukrainian government forces.
As such, many separatists have retreated (with much of their equipment and heavy weaponry) to the city of Donetsk, making it the epicenter of separatist activity at the moment (and this was true even before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down from Donetsk).
There are numerous roadblocks and checkpoints leading into the city of Donetsk… Below, you can see a separatist with an AK-47 monitoring the road (notice the Russian flag flying on the bunker they have built):
The separatists manning the checkpoints usually allow cars and buses through, but search trucks and vans:
Here is a shot from Google Maps outlining where the roadblocks are on the road from the nearby town of Makiivka to Donetsk:
But, the city of Donetsk is not Stalingrad or Grozny yet and, at least on the surface, it’s mostly business as usual:
However, that isn’t meant to imply that all is normal and well inside Donetsk. The separatists have occupied some government buildings, such as the Ministry of Finance, a student hostel near the university and the hospital and, probably tragically for some, the McDonald’s in Donetsk is indefinitely closed.
Emir explains the McDonald’s story:
…the McDonalds is indefinitely closed in Donetsk City apparently because the bandits kept raiding it for free food (and maybe money too), probably because it’s a symbol of the west and also maybe because this separatist movement is (embarrasingly) supported by the Donbass communists….hence the “peoples republic” moniker….they are not for the people though, ‘cos if at the roadblocks, they want to take your car, and you refuse, you’ll get shot, like some young 18 year old girl did not long ago…
More seriously, as the separatists retreated to Donetsk and surrounding environs, they blew up some of the key road and railway lines as well as part of the water supply station for Donetsk City and Makiivka.
As such, the water is off during the day and is only available for a limited time in the evenings and mornings.
Further, supermarket shelves are becoming increasingly empty as trucks are having a difficult time getting through and trains are being re-routed:
Of course, with the recent setbacks the Ukrainian forces have dealt to the separatists, desertions have increased. One group of deserters robbed a bank in Donetsk of roughly 30 million hryvnias (approximately $2,500,000) before fleeing on trucks back to Russia.
Another group of separatists recently abducted two executives of a large coal mine in Donetsk (presumably to ransom them back).
Such behavior, when combined with the disruptions to their lives, leads many locals to refer to the fighters as bandits rather than as separatists.
Of course, there are the true believers as well… Below is a propaganda stand promoting the Donetsk People’s Republic and distributing a pro-Russian newspaper:
A better view of the inspirational sign on the side:
Below is Emir’s explanation:
On the side it says
Donetskaya Narodnaya Respublika
Donetsk People’s Republic
DNR – Eto Strana!
DNR – Eto Narod!
DNR – Eto Sloboda!
DNR – It is the country!
DNR – It is the people!
DNR – It is freedom!
then under that…
Strelkovtsyev – the name of the leader of these bandits/terrorists or separatists
Thats him with the mustache of course. The woman in the white red and black dress next to the stand on the left is the one ‘manning’ it, she was having a smoke when I walked up and said “Zdrastvuitye” (a formal hello) and took some snaps, she didn’t seem to mind at all….
Of course, separatist activity extends beyond the city of Donetsk itself. Nearby is the town of Makiivka (Makeevka in Russian) where Vostok Battalion commander Alexander Khodakovsky has recently been holed up with his fighters after a reported falling out with Igor Strelkovtsyev AKA Igor Strelkov AKA Girkin (the man pictured on the propaganda stand above).
In Makiivka the separatists are dispersed throughout the city and have only occupied the Ukrainian Security Services building (SBU). The SBU is equivalent to the current Russian FSB or the old Soviet KGB. Below are pictures of the building:
The same building, but this picture was taken on a different day:
A screenshot of Google Maps showing where the SBU building is located for those of you that wish to play along at home:
The Shooting Down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
Many fingers point at the direct involvement of Igor Strelkovtsyev AKA Strelkov AKA Girkin as he actually bragged about shooting down the airliner on social media. His posts were subsequently deleted when the tragic error was revealed, but it was too late to cover things up.
Below is a picture of one of the posts and a translation Emir has provided for us:
Yes Strelkovtsyev aka “Girkin” (they all use pseudonyms like the Bolsheviks did) has probably come out of this looking really bad. I’ve pasted the jpg below with the translation text. It’s done line by line to match the cyrillic…
And this is the latest on Igor Strelkovtsyev:
Apparently the talk around here is that he is trying to escape to Russia and that everyone knows it was his forces that did it, as the separatists are trying to say the Ukrainian army did it, but most everyone here knows that’s BS but that is now confirmed ‘cos Obama called Poroshenko and personally told him the Pentagon has confirmed this via satellite photo-recce pics and other means and like a Ukrainian lawyer here said on TV “you can always tell what gun a bullet was fired from and with artillery and missiles you can apply the same methods to find out who made the weapons” by that he meant Ukrainian army or Russian.
[It is said] that the Russians won’t let him back and you may be right about him. he’s become a liability now and might disappear, KGB style! Also I was curious about his name and pseudonyms so we talked about it some more. She [a friend of Emir’s] says that she is fairly sure his real name is “Igor Girkin” and that Strelkov and Strelkovtsev are chosen pseudonyms as “strelok” is the word for “someone who shoots” so that means he chose those 2 surnames for that reason. Much like Josef (Iosef) Dgugashvilli chose Stalin from “Stal” – steel, hence man of steel or Lev Bronstein chose to be Leon Trotsky – Leo – the Lion or Vyacheslav Scriabin chose “Molotov” – Molot – hammer or Vladimir Ulyanov chose “Lenin” from the River Lena, which is a huge long river and also the site of a famous rebellion against the Tsars. So Girkins names are not randomly chosen, but like the Bolsheviks, mean’t to infer some kind of greatness or toughness…
I was quite curious as to the sentiments of the locals within Donetsk in regard to the Malaysian Airlines aircraft and the loss of life. Below is Emir’s response to this inquiry:
I remember A***’s (Eds. Note: We’ll protect her identity) friend V******* (Eds. Note: We’ll protect her identity too) called and said ‘something terrible has happened’ and told her to switch on the news. Everyone A*** knows is really disgusted by this act, because they all know there were young children aboard that airliner. I think that’s what really bothers everyone here, that kids got killed on top of just innocent people getting killed. A*** doesn’t have any kids of her own, but all her friends do so it really hits home with them.
From what I can gather from A*** calling all her friends and her private English students is that the reaction is by far negative. Even to the point that there is talk that some of the separatists are now deserting and the civilian leader here in Donetsk (so not Strelkovtsyev who is the general commander/leader and not the PM Alexander Borodai ) has now resigned and gone into hiding, apparently there was an attempt to assassinate him. I’ve just noticed while searching for him that all the mainstream western media is mispelling or truncating Stretkovtsevs name to Strelkov, haha, can’t they get anything right! Anyway heres the guy who resigned, he’s not the self proclaimed Prime Minister but the leader of the “Supreme Soviet” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denis_Pushilin
And an even more recent update that was received while this post was being composed:
Hey, with that perspective on what people here think about the plane crash. Today we went to visit my friends Uncle again in the adjacent town called Yasinovata and on the way there by train I asked A*** to listen in to any conversations to see if she could pickup on anything as politics and the current situation is always a topic of conversation here (it seems to be almost what all her friends call her about). Usually when I ask her in public “what are they saying” she replies she wasn’t listening as she isn’t really into eavesdropping like some people are, she tends to ignore loud conversations in public. Anyway today I asked her to concentrate on them and it wasn’t really necessary as at Makiivka train station an off duty conductress was talking on the phone on the platform as we waited for the train and A*** said that she was talking about how she thought it was the Ukrainian army that shot down the airliner and it really irritated my friend and she referred to her as “that bitch” (she never uses vulgar language!). Also on the way from the train station to her Uncles as we walked along some people out the front of their house loading sacks on a truck were saying the same thing, that they thought the Ukrainian army shot down the plane. In both cases they didn’t seem to care about the kids that got killed, just that they believed the lies that the Russian TV channels promulgate. It really is pure propaganda as the Separatists have cut off all the Ukrainian news channels here, which offer the only really objective take on things here. At least far less subjective and not pure lies and BS like the Russian channels.
So, what happens next? It’s difficult to say without knowing Vladimir Putin’s thoughts and intentions. Without Putin’s heavy support, the Ukrainian military would almost certainly have mopped up the separatists already. At the moment, the separatists appear to be focusing their efforts on hit-and-run operations and preparing to defend the city of Donetsk against an expected Ukrainian government offensive.
The level of overt support Putin is prepared to provide to the rebels remains to be seen.
As can probably be imagined, Putin is not exactly popular in the rest of Ukraine. Below is a picture Emir sent from Lyviv of an anti-Putin kiosk selling Putin toilet paper and doormats:
Apparently, the above were selling quite well…