May 9, 2018 Fort Russ News –
By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold –
Despite Ukrainian authorities’ ban on Immortal Regiment marches in honor of Victory Day, such actions have been courageously held in Ukrainian-occupied Donbass. The following is an account of the Immortal Regiment march in the town of Konstantinovka.
The city of Konstantinovka, in the Donetsk region, had 120,000 inhabitants in 1991, the last year of the Soviet Union, and around 60,000 by the beginning of the war in Donbass. As its population has drastically dropped and the age composition leaped, Konstantinovka, like all of Donbass (with the exception of the largest cities) has turned into a pensioners’ city. The youth, deprived of prospects in the new Ukraine, either left for the bigger cities in Ukraine or left the country altogether. The war in Donbass further aggravated the city’s demographic processes. Konstantinovka actively supported the Donbass independence referendum on May 11th, 2014, and gave many tenacious fighters to the Donetsk People’s Republic militia, many of whom are no longer among the living.
I admit, I was frankly shocked to learn that Konstantinovka would hold an Immortal Regiment action. Despite the ban on the central and regional levels, some groups took the initiative to organize those enthusiastic. When my friends, who are generally apolitical people, said that they were going to take part in the action, I was sure that this meant a few dozen and, maybe under pressure, 200 to 300 people. But the Immortal Regiment in Konstantinovka on May 9th, 2018, was attended by around 5,000 people! Of course, this figure is approximate, but the whole square and central street Klainin Prospekt were indeed filled by, even more surprisingly, numerous young people and children, some of whom were dressed up in Red Army costumes.
The main “culprits”, veterans of the Great Patriotic War, were many. Apart from all the other groups were some Ukrainian soldiers, whom the rest of the participants shunned. This huge mass of people was surrounded by chains of police officers armed with machine guns, which gave the eery impression of a danger waiting to happen.
Nevertheless, the event passed without any excesses. Wartime songs, which are taboo and semi-banned in Ukraine, were sung and veterans were presented with flowers and thanked for victory. The only speaker who tried to politicize this day of celebration and tribute was the city’s military commissar, who uncomfortably, constantly fumbling, read a speech in Ukrainian from a paper which conflated the war against Nazism with “Russian-occupation troops” and evoked “Ukraine’s European choice.” His speech was met with cold silence, whereas another speaker was often interrupted by ovation for his evocation of the memory of the victors over Nazism.
The small town of Konstantinovka is a testimony to the fact that the Ukrainian authorities’ attempts to taboo the memory of Victory have been broken – in the part of Donbass they control. Kiev probably decided not to embitter the population, and so allowed it to hold such a “pro-Putin” action as the Immortal Regiment.
This was the first Victory Day celebration in Donbass and is a pleasant and delightful sign. The people have rejected the glorification of Ukrainian Nazism and cursing of Russia that has been forced on them. This also means that the Ukrainian authorities will be thinking about what else to do with this disloyal population of Ukrainian Donbass.
Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation.