My Ukrainian Donetsk

Donetsk. What is Donetsk? What an ambiguous and complex question. A similar question, a more important question should be asked: why and for whom is it advantageous to describe the citizens of Donetsk as losers, cowards, and separatists?

In order to better understand Donetsk let us examine the facts.

Donetsk was founded in 1869 as a town for engineers and industrial workers, clustered around the metallurgical plant that was established by the Welsh industrialist, John Hughes. It grew and gradually expanded and eventually absorbed the surrounding villages and towns that had originally been settled by the free kozaks, the members of the Zaporizhian Sich, in the 17th century.* Back then the land was divided into an oblast for the Zaporizhian kozaks and an oblast for the Don Cossacks along the Kalmius River, a navigable river in those days.

In modern times [and until 2014] the city had a population of a million people. It was made up of 9 districts and it had a typical layout with the center of the city concentrated along the Kalmius River. It had well-developed industry, good roads, good infrastructure and a modern city center. It also had a depressed and rundown surrounding area.

It had great business opportunities and it had poverty. There was passion and there was despair. Excitement and indifference. Donetsk is a city that with concerted Soviet effort was colonized with Russian proletarian families, diluting the native population.

It was a city where dreamers came to find a better life but didn’t always find it. A city of contrasts. For some life in Donetsk was as sweet as roses and for people who received 1200 UAH in pension benefits after decades of hard work life was bitter. It was a city in which whatever your skin color, whichever language you spoke, or whichever religion you professed, people coexisted peacefully.

On March 1, 2014 a pro-Russian meeting was held in front of the Donetsk Regional Administration building. The people who came to the meeting were locals and representatives of various organized groups that were brought in from Russia. Reacting to the demands of the Russian crowd the municipal authorities did not say a thing and made themselves scarce by disappearing into the administration building. The Ukrainian national flag was taken down and replaced with the flag of the DNR. There were about 20,000 people. At least half of them looked and sounded foreign and knew nothing about the city (they got lost and had to ask questions). Some of them, with a bottle of beer in their hands, urinated in front of the regional library even though there was a pay toilet two meters away.

Credits to: Anna Hutsulka for EMPR

In answer to what was happening the residents of Donetsk got together on social media and prepared a Ukrainian response to the just-held pro-Russian meeting. Thus, on March 5, 2014 about 5,000 locals came to a pro-Ukrainian rally. The rally was peaceful but the DNR camp kept terrorizing the rally participants with bodily harm. In small groups they meandered through the gathered multitude and tried to provoke fights.

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Another pro-Ukrainian rally was held on March 9, 2014 on the central square of Donetsk, Lenin Square. An hour before the rally was set to begin an application to hold a pro-Russian rally at the same location and at the same time was submitted to the city council. Permission was granted. A line of police stood between the two groups. The pro-Russian side actively threatened the opposing group by hurling eggs at them, sacks of flour, chalk, and needles. After the rally was over the pro-Russians attacked some in the disbursing crowd, especially people who had a Ukrainian flag. They snatched the flags away and beat the people. There were about 10,000 people at the pro-Ukrainian rally and about as many at the pro-Russian one.

Yet another rally took place on March 13, 2014, also at Lenin Square. According to a preliminary analysis of the separatists’ social networks it was discovered that an extremely aggressive mood was prevalent among the separatists. There was a palpable readiness to kill. Many of the patriots were aware of the threat of violence but they refused to stay home and be silent.

On that day an organized attack was carried out by the DNR thugs on the patriots who had volunteered to provide security at the rally. The thugs used chains, knives, and stones. The police shepherded the patriots into a bus and walked away. The young thugs took advantage of the free access and attacked. Approximately 50 people received traumatic head injuries (many cranial). At least three were killed, though only one has been identified, a 22 year old student, Dmytro Cherniavsky.

Attempts were made to kidnap and murder the victims when they were in the hospital already and to search for them at their homes (using data that had been collected by the activists of the Donetsk Euromaidan, the police, and the security service back in December, 2013. It is a fact that since January, 2014, the activists had been receiving threats and they were spied on at their homes).

After causing and provoking all the public turbulence the separatists turned to completing their real objectives: they seized the buildings of the security service, the police, and the military bases. Now they had many more weapons. With that came the armed battles, the capture of Slaviansk by the Russians, and the kidnapping, torture, and murder of the activists.

It is unfortunate and painful, but true: in the Donbas region civil society is more passive than active.
But there is another truth: the natives of Donbas who are patriots of Ukraine will stand to the death to defend the interests of their homeland.

So why and for whom is it advantageous to present all the people of Donbas in a black light? There are more questions than answers…

Anna Hutsulka for EMPR

EMPR, O. R. contributed to this publication

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