One year later, and no turning back: Donbass in the spring of ’14


One year after Donbass chose its fate

Regardless of talks with the regime in Kiev, the geopolitical situation in Ukraine will never be the same, writes the journalist Maxim Shevchenko member of the Izborskiy Klub. April 13, 2015

April 15, 2016

translated from Russian by Tom Winter

A year ago Donbass chose their lot: not to be governed by the Maidan rebellion in Kiev. It was clear right away that this would lead to civil war. After all, the new Kiev rule, supposing itself the standard-bearer of European values, immediately deemed the protests in all southeast Ukraine as a “stand-off of goblins.” There could be no illusions: the recourse would be force, with no negotiating.

I clearly remember those days, when a feeling of great events and a premonition of impending tragedy mingled with the beautiful springtime in Donetsk. People’s militias gathered throughout the mining and industrial towns. There were, as yet, no weapons, but they took in hand sticks and stones, put up barricades, and blocked the roads. It seemed the grandeur of folk vigilantes, like the hero of a Dovzhenko Studio film: strong calloused hands, down-to-earth people, still covered with the coal dust of their profession, eyes askance, distrustful, engaging in the typical Donetsk small talk, about accidents in blue language, and now and again, the need to fortify an emotional position.

But in the chic “Donbass Palace” over a ten-euro coffee it was a different world. Sitting there were the representatives of the Donbass elite, rich lords of life, and more than a little confused. I recall chatting with a representative from the Party of Regions, whom we knew from the TV as a strong defender of Russian-speaking Ukraine. 

I asked “Why aren’t you in the Regional Admin building?” (It was the HQ of the Donetsk uprising.)

“What are those marginalized cattle to me?”

“They’re your constituents! Don’t you have to be with them?”

“They’re nobodies and tomorrow they’ll be gone.”

“Tomorrow when they arm themselves and shed blood, they’ll count as heroes and the salt of the earth, and you’ll be gone.”

I was right. After Slavyansk, Shakhtersk, and Saur-Mogili, after Ilovaisk and Karlovka, the survivors became soldiers, tankists, artillerymen, special forces, but the functionaries of the Party of Regions, afraid to stick their nose in the Donbass, either fled to Kiev — or to the Russian TV channels, to be talking heads saying what they neither saw nor knew.

I’ve said it more than once; they’d have voted for any of those functionaries, if they had somehow found the manhood to stand alongside the people in those terrible months of summer and fall; if they had withstood the artillery bombardments, if they had helped those for whom there was no escaping the towns and villages that were bombed into rubble. But no, and the train of history has gone on and left them — if, of course, the armed people of the Donbass have the strength, and strength of will, to defend their freedom and their dignity. At all events, nothing can expunge  the memory of that mixed-up spring of last year: the hope among the people, and the contrasting fear among the bigshots.

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