Will the Russian Spring rise again in the South-East?


October 14, 2016 – Fort Russ – 

Aleksey Polubota, Svobodnaya Pressa – translated by J. Arnoldski –

The Ukrainian information space has once again been filled with statements that the country is threatened by separatism.

The first to voice this was the ex-governor of the Kharkov region, Igor Raynin, who told journalists on October 12th of the need to immediately adopt three defense programs that could help stabilize the situation. He did not voice any specifics, but did emphasize that the Kharkov region is a strategic region as it shares more than 300 kilometers of a border with Russia and Donbass. 

Anatoly Lopata, a retired colonel general, former chief of staff of the UAF, and former deputy defense minister, added fuel to the fire. He agreed with Raynin, but added that Kharkov ended up outside of the ATO zone because strong people managed to stay in power when the population was faced with the choice.

On October 13th, this “marathon” was continued by an SBU general major and ex-head of the SBU’s investigative department, Vasiliy Vovk. Vovk stated: “Odessa and Kharkov. If not now, then in the foreseeable future these two regions will become our problem. I do not want to go into details, but pay attention to the position of people living in these regions, not the words of politicians or officials, but the situation of ordinary people.”

According to Vovk, protest sentiments are growing in the Kherson region as well, where people are extremely dissatisfied with the unbridled behavior of militants from the Crimean-Tatar nationalist battalions. As is the usual case, this SBU officer sees “the machinations of Russia” behind the discontent of the population of the South East. 

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials don’t want to talk about the social reasons underpinning the growth of protest moods. But they are staring them in the face.

On October 13th, more than 700 employees of the Kharkov energy company INTEK appealed to President Petro Poroshenko with the demand that economic relations with Russia be immediately restored. The enterprise’s workers consider Russia a strategic partner whose absence threatens the future work of the company. The labor collective’s appeal was published on the company’s official website.

“We lost everything with the termination of partner relations with Russia. The absence of any state guarantees or assistance in entering European countries’ energy markets not only deprives us of future development, but also of the means to exist at all. Therefore, the labor collective of our company supports the initiative of a number of people’s deputies of Ukraine on the necessity of restoring trade and economic relations with the Russian Federation,” the appeal addressed to Poroshenko reads.

Even the general director of the company, Artem Dudka, supports them: “I can only confirm that without Russia we are doomed.” Earlier, workers of a number of enterprises in Zaporozhya and Dnepropetrovsk appealed to the Ukrainian president with a call to lift the anti-Russian sanctions and resume trading with Russian partners.

Journalist and Anti-Maidan activist Artem Buzila explained: “It is clear that so-called separatist and simple opposition sentiments towards the regime have been suppressed or driven underground over the past two years by force and extreme cruelty, as was done in Odessa on May 2nd. In Kharkov and other cities of the South East, arrests and beatings have hit down on dissenters.” 

Buzila continued: “On the other hand, Kiev can’t understand that on March 1st, 2014 there was a rally in Kharkov in which tens of thousands of people with active pro-Russian positions participated. These people in their majority have not gone away. Let me remind you that Kharkov was initially considered the capital of the anti-Maidan protest movement. In Odessa, until May 2nd, 2014, the actions of the resistance were always distinguished by their political competence. At Kulikovo Field, they created a form of public self-governance alternative to the Kiev regime.”

“Now,” Buzila explained, “Ukrainian officials and security forces have begun to sound the alarm because people’s fear is gradually disappearing and, at the same time, discontent with the Ukrainian government is growing. Many residents of the South East are once again ready to take to the streets, and not only because of social cataclysms. 

“Look, on May 2nd this year in Odessa, an unexpectedly large number of residents came out to honor the memory of those killed two years ago. And on May 9th, a mass of people marched throughout the country as part of the Immortal Regiment action even though this is not, so to say, a Ukrainian holiday (which has been moved to May 8th). This summer, the All-Ukrainian Holy Procession was held which many Ukrainian nationalists considered to be pro-Russian. 

Buzila emphasized: “People are waking up. It is clear that the centers of resistance to the Kiev regime will be those cities which have traditionally strong anti-Maidan sentiments – Kharkov and Odessa. As for Kherson, this is due to its proximity to Crimea. People drive to the peninsula and interact with locals. They see that, contrary to Ukrainian propaganda, Crimea’s infrastructure is improving. Compared to Crimea, Kherson is, so to say, languishing. In addition, people are tired of all the semi-bandit volunteer battalions preventing them from working and trading normally with Crimea.”

Svobodnaya Pressa asked Buzila: “Donbass is presented as some kind of horror story to the normal Ukrainian. The idea has been subconsciously driven into people that if they “misbehave,” then they’ll get the same shelling and uncertain legal status. Does this strategy have an impact on peoples’ consciousness?”

Buzila: “Those Ukrainians who are incapable of analyzing information are convinced that the DPR and LPR are roamed by gangs of ‘separatist terrorists’, that nothing works and that everyone is starving. These people don’t know that a government has been established there and that elections are being held. I myself am now in Lugansk and I can see that the city is living a normal life.

“But those people who believe the propaganda are not the majority in the South East. Instead, common sense prevails. For a long time, Ukraine forged a similar horror story about Transnistria. But in Odessa, where I am from,  a large portion of residents perfectly know that the unrecognized Transnistrian Republic even lives better than Moldova. Many Odessans have seen this with their own eyes. They’ve seen the standard of living in Transnistria, the condition of roads there, etc. The horror stories only last so long. It is no accident that anti-Russian propaganda in Ukraine is now losing its effectiveness. 

“In 2014 and 2015, many Ukrainians were convinced that Russia’s goal is grabbing half of Ukraine, destroying Ukrainian identity, and so on. But as time goes on, many see that there is no Russian aggression. There was recently a scandal in which, on one of the central Kiev channels during Matvey Ganapolsky’s program, the majority of voters replied to the question of whether there is a Russian threat by voting no. Of course, this example does not reflect the mood of all of Ukrainian society, but it is still quite characteristic.

“People in Ukraine understand that if Russian channels are banned, then that’s because they’re not allowed to compare information, which means that the Kiev authorities are trying to hide an objective picture of what is happening.”

Journalist Andrey Dmitriev offered his commentary: “Besides the military, the ‘threat of separatism’ has also been forged by officials. For example, the ex-governor of the Kharkov region, Igor Raynin, recently stated that the region continues to be volatile. Perhaps Raynin is worried about Yuliya Svetlichnaya whom he patronized to become the governor of the Kharkov region. She was put there so that there wouldn’t be a strong governor capable of defending the rights of the region against Kiev. But people don’t like this situation. Therefore, more and more labor collectives are demanding that economic ties with Russia be restored.”

Dmitriev described the situation further: “On the everyday level, this manifests itself in passive opposition to the Kiev government. Many internet resources in Kharkov aired the story about a bus driver who, responding to a passenger presenting his certificate of participation in the ATO, said: ‘And when our guys come, where will you hide this?’ Despite the propaganda, many citizens continue to clearly distinguish between ‘ours’ and ‘theirs.’ And they perceive the supporters of the Kiev regime as foreign.

“And there’s another thing that is worrying the Kiev authorities. Now the deadline for releasing the activists arrested in April 2014 has arrived. These people will be go out and tell everyone about their imprisonment. And this information can open many people’s eyes. Those activists who kept themselves together with dignity in prison will come out as winners and can lead protests. There are such people.”

Svobodnaya Pressa asked Dmitriev: “Does a desire to initiate new repression against dissidents stand behind the military’s recent statements?”

Dmitriev replied: “Yes, this is quite possible. From time to time, reports appear that they are going to go after ‘moderate’ activists, i.e., those who do not agree with the policies of the Kiev government, but have not actively protested. In addition, security forces are interested in more money being allocated for the fight against the ‘separatist threat.’ So they quite conveniently ‘expose’ it everywhere.”

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