Donbass: Our Choice is Russia — a panegyric to the spirit of this Russian people

Normal life within range of Ukraine's cannons


Erwan Castell

Translator note: This report on the fifth anniversary of the Donetsk and Lugansk Declarations is actually a panegyric to the spirit of Donbass. It is worth reading or I would not have taken the trouble, and trouble there was: many of these sentences in the panegyric style were hundreds of words long, and replete with literary figures and rhetorical devices, so it has been more than the usual work to produce a smooth-reading English that conveyed what the French conveyed. Please accept it as a well-deserved panegyric to the unbowed spirit of the Lugansk and Donetsk Peoples Republics!

At the moment when the five years of the war and the creation of the republics of Donetsk and Lugansk under the storm of steel are ringing, in the city of Donetsk an immense banner recalls the choice and the course held against all odds by this Russian people stuck between the western hammer and the Russian anvil.

Five years is the time it takes a child to be born, grow, walk, talk, and begin to forge his personality in the crucible of his environment, his heritage, his experience, his tears and his laughter.
Five  years for nascent republics — it’s nothing but it’s also a very long time, especially when they are besieged by a furious army that has kept on bombarding their population for nearly 2000 days and 2000 nights. Just 3 days ago 2 Republican soldiers were killed in the Ukrainian bombing and this morning a 12-year-old girl was seriously injured by a mortar shell during Kiev’s bombing of her village of Zolotaya 5 near the city of Lugansk.

On the eve of traditional May ceremonies, people are looking back on the path of the rebellion acknowledging that it has failed to achieve all of its goals, such as the liberation of the occupied territories, peace with Kiev, and at least the recognition of the republics by Moscow, but nobody regrets today the choice expressed in the spring of 2014 to end this Russia-phobic madness that has taken hold of Ukraine since the Maidan coup.

This people of Donbass five years on is at the same time free and captive, happy and disappointed, because if it could, at the cost of immense sufferings which continue, take in hand its destiny, it undergoes today the destiny of its territory that the unjust winds of history have today placed between the fires of new East-West tensions, such that all who have come to the military front for even half a day, or have come to Donbass would not call it “Cold War 2.0” but rather “hot peace” and even boiling!

A Donbass woman on the threshold of her house bombed by Ukrainian artillery
For more than four years I have been in the Donbass in the middle of the ruins, those of the front or those of Oktyabrsky district where I decided to live away from the ministerial alcoves of the glittering windows and the propagandist writings which perorate long since that all is well, we are the best, the invincible and tomorrow … or after tomorrow the inhabitants of Donetsk and Lugansk will be full Russian citizens as were their ancestors at the beginning of the last century.

Alas, between destiny and what is destined there is a mountain difficult to cross if  not an abyssal chasm, and though for the Crimea, where “the case was folded” in 3 weeks and without a shot, yet for the Donbass, the return to the motherland is hampered by the growing threats to Moscow which prevent it for the moment from fulfilling the  legitimate will of this Russian land of blood, culture, History and heart.

Reality, the road traveled during these 5 years of republican adventure is exceptional and heroic, because it is five years of war but also five years of solitude where the joys of freedom gained are darkened by the penalties of an endless war, where expectations alternate with disappointments.
And yet, this population has never succumbed to despair and opposes the criminal desires that roam the doors of its cities with a fierce will to live, carried by a capacity for resilience that it is difficult to describe here without being accused of lying by those who do not know this Russian mentality or who have never even come here.

And there is this impressive and surreal contrast between the front, this 400km linear zone completely ravaged by fighting and bombing that has never stopped, and the city centers where life continues “normally” as restaurants and crowded theaters are often only twenty minutes away from bunkers and bombed houses.
For example, these two “news items” taken this week in the chronology of Donbass (and to look at the unimaginable reality of this life in the war, see the following link on FB for example: “Novorossia News“)… and during this time, within range of Ukrainian cannons, a show is given by the Gorlovka Dance University. Note the contrast between the following two photographs:

This, I believe, is the miracle of the Donbass where, despite the war and its countless victims and destruction, the collapse of economic production, the blockade with Ukraine (economic but also administrative, social, etc.), the shattering of families and friends , the professional financial depression, academics etc …, the men and women of Donbass have continued to stand in the winds of history and persevere in the tempest of their expectations.

We must not believe that the people of Donbass are naive or fanatic, on the contrary, and I am surprised on the contrary by the clairvoyance of their analysis, the correctness of their discontents or fears, but which have only warmed up their fidelity to the common project and the voluntary moral discipline that they put at the service of a host of daily, collective and individual duties where solidarity and civic obedience merge harmoniously.
Thus, for example, up to a few hundred meters from the front, the services of the state function, but also the habits and customs that persist even in the middle of the ruins, such as the collective maintenance by the population of surrounding areas and public spaces. .Also, this banner “Our Choice – Russia!” which, along with many other posters that flourish in Donetsk during these pre-ceremonies in May (1945 victory and 2014 referendum), is as much addressed today to Kiev, where the future of Donbass is at the heart of the ongoing electoral debate as to Moscow, where the Kremlin is trying to find a compromise between an international real politik wishing to avoid war and the patriotic duty to protect the Russian people of the Donbass who suffers one of the most abject. While the Kremlin does not play on the Donbass front line, neither militarily nor politically, it completely justly intervenes in Minsk at the no less difficult table of diplomatic negotiations that have been bogged down for 5 years precisely because the stakes and the threats that take flight from the battlefield of Donbass go much further than this horizon surrounded by slag heaps.
But no matter, the people of Donbass let Moscow know that their voice and the way they chose in 2014 have not changed and that their love for Russia is still the essence of their life, either with Zakharchenko, Pushilin or another, because this choice of Russia is that of a heroic and legitimate destiny, in reaction to the western madness of the Maidan. It is not a political reaction but the expression of the common sense of this “collective unconscious” which forms the deep roots of peoples. It is a natural and popular choice of identity.
And 5 years of loneliness, tears, and blood are more than any ordinary people can endure, but the Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, renewing their confidence and plans for the future with Russia call out to Kiev, despite the blows received, that the divorce is definitely consummated and to Moscow, despite the disappointments experienced, only by the fresh earth reopened daily in their cemeteries, that they deserved their true homeland, both by the blood received and by the blood shed right up to today.

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